Skip to main content

Full text of "African-American artists of Los Angeles oral history transcript, 1992-1993 : John Riddle"

See other formats


John  Riddle 

Interviewed  by  Karen  Anne  Mason 

Completed  under  the  auspices 

of  the 

Oral  History  Program 

University  of  California 

Los  Angeles 

Copyright  ©  2000 
The  Regents  of  the  University  of  California 


The  copyright  law  of  the  United  States  (Title  17, 
United  States  Code)  governs  the  making  of  photocopies 
or  other  reproductions  of  copyrighted  material.   Under 
certain  conditions  specified  in  the  law,  libraries  and 
archives  are  authorized  to  furnish  a  photocopy  or  other 
reproduction.   One  of  these  specified  conditions  is 
that  the  photocopy  or  reproduction  is  not  to  be  used 
for  any  purpose  other  than  private  study,  scholarship, 
or  research.   If  a  user  makes  a  request  for,  or  later 
uses,  a  photocopy  or  reproduction  for  purposes  in 
excess  of  "fair  use,"  that  user  may  be  liable  for 
copyright  infringement.   This  institution  reserves  the 
right  to  refuse  to  accept  a  copying  order  if,  in  its 
judgement,  fulfillment  of  the  order  would  involve 
violation  of  copyright  law. 


Portions  of  this  interview  are  restricted  until  January  1, 
2025,  without  interviewee's  written  permission. 


This  manuscript  is  hereby  made  available  for  research 
purposes  only.   All  literary  rights  in  the  manuscript, 
including  the  right  to  publication,  are  reserved  to  the 
University  Library  of  the  University  of  California, 
Los  Angeles.   No  part  of  the  manuscript  may  be  quoted 
for  publication  without  the  written  permission  of  the 
University  Librarian  of  the  University  of  California, 
Los  Angeles. 

This  interview  was  made  possible  in  part  by  a  grant 
from  the  UCLA  Institute  of  American  Cultures  in 
conjunction  with  the  UCLA  Center  for  African  American 


Biographical  Summary vi 

Interview  History viii 

TAPE  NUMBER:   I,  Side  One  (September  5,  1992) 1 

Family  background- -The  Carter  G.  Woodson 
collection  in  the  Atlanta  library--Woodson' s 
connection  to  the  Riddle  family — Father's 
employment  as  an  architect  and  specifications 
writer — The  decline  of  a  sense  of  community  among 
African  Americans--Riddle' s  religious  background-- 
His  murals  for  a  Black  Christian  Nationalist 
church  in  Atlanta- -Racial  discrimination  in  Los 
Angeles . 

TAPE  NUMBER:   I,  Side  Two  (September  5,  1992) 30 

Induction  into  the  United  States  Air  Force- - 
Discrimination  in  the  military--Reasons  African 
Americans  seek  employment  in  the  military  and  the 
postal  service--Riddle' s  tour  of  duty  in  Japan- - 
His  perception  of  the  Japanese  people--His  early 
interest  in  art--Studies  earth  science  at  Los 
Angeles  Community  College--Receives  a  B.A.  from 
California  State  University,  Los  Angeles,  in 
education  and  art- -Reasons  Riddle  works  in 
several  media--His  interest  in  found  objects-- 
Sketching  the  police  station  at  Pico  and  Rimpau. 

TAPE  NUMBER:   II,  Side  One  (September  5,  1992) 60 

Meets  Noah  Purifoy  and  Ruth  G.  Waddy--Walking 
railroad  tracks  to  find  discarded  objects  for 
sculptures--David  Smith's  influence  on  Riddle's 
work- -Acquiring  the  skill  of  finding  useful 
material  for  his  artwork--Genesis  and  evolution 
of  his  Employees  Only  assemblage- -His  Malcolm  X 
and  Nixon:  The  Twentieth  Anniversary,  Busted 
pieces--Reasons  Riddle  prefers  sculpture  to 
painting--His  M.A.  thesis  on  spirit  and 
technology- -Constructing  the  assemblage  Bird  and 


TAPE  NUMBER:   II,  Side  Two  (September  5,  1992) 90 

More  on  the  assemblage  Bird  and  Diz--Riddle' s 
wife  Carmen's  family--African  American  artists  in 
Los  Angeles- -Carmen  Riddle's  mother--Dan 
Concholar  and  David  Hammons--The  nature  of  black 
art--Ernest  Herbert  and  BAAism--Alonzo  Davis  and 
the  Brockman  Gallery- -Suzanne  Jackson  and  Gallery 
32--The  founding  of  Art-West  Associated--Saturday 
art  critiques  at  the  Brockman  Gallery--Patronage 
of  African  American  art  in  Los  Angeles — The 
racism  of  United  States  foreign  and  domestic 
policies - 

TAPE  NUMBER:   III,  Side  One  (September  5,  1992) 130 

The  incidence  of  drug  and  alcohol  use  among 
artists  and  musicians--Dif ferences  between 
artists  in  Atlanta  and  those  on  the  West  Coast-- 
Riddle ' s  brief  sojourn  in  Trinidad--Elite  control 
of  and  profiteering  from  the  Olympic  Games- - 
African  American  artists'  use  of  color--Riddle' s 
painting  The  Olympic  Stand--His  Clubs  Is  Trumps-- 
Images  and  techniques  he  uses  in  his  art. 

TAPE  NUMBER:   III,  Side  Two  (September  5,  1992) 161 

Riddle's  desire  to  avoid  repeating  himself 
artistically — The  commitment  and  dedication 
required  to  be  an  artist--Riddle ' s  definition  of 
success . 

TAPE  NUMBER:   IV,  Side  One  (June  26,  1993) 165 

Riddle's  collaboration  with  John  W.  Outterbridge-- 
More  on  his  murals  for  a  Black  Christian 
Nationalist  church  in  Atlanta--More  on  his 
collaboration  with  Outterbridge- -Anthony  Hill-- 
Competition  and  cooperation  among  Riddle ' s  artist 
friends--How  the  Watts  riots  united  African 
American  artists  in  Los  Angeles--Dif ferences 
between  black  and  white  critics '  approach  to 
African  American  art--The  public's  preference  for 
soothing,  nonconf rontational  art--United  States 
involvement  in  the  drug  trade  in  Central  America-- 
The  human  costs  of  drug  use  in  African  American 
communities--Crime  as  a  source  of  profit  in 
American  society. 


TAPE  hajMBER:   IV,  Side  Two  (June  26,  1993) 198 

The  problem  of  black-on-black  violence--Raising 
African  American  consciousness  through  art-- 
Impact  of  the  middle  passage  on  Riddle's  art--His 
goals  in  teaching  children--The  injustice  of 
United  States  immigration  policies--The 
importance  of  persevering  in  art  regardless  of 
the  market--The  need  for  African  Americans  to 
support  African  American  businesses--White 
liberals'  attitude  toward  blacks--The  impact  of 
racism  worldwide. 

TAPE  NUMBER:   V,  Side  One  (June  26,  1993) 227 

More  on  the  impact  of  racism  worldwide--Riddle' s 
appreciation  of  jazz--The  African  American  art 
tradition — Riddle's  idea  for  an  artwork 
portraying  Huey  P.  Newton- -America ' s  recent 
decline  and  its  causes--Riddle' s  proposed  artwork 
on  the  drug  trade--Ronald  W.  Reagan--Riddle' s 
reasons  for  becoming  an  artist--Producing  art 
while  holding  full-time  employment. 

Index 254 



Bom:   March  18,  1933,  Los  Angeles. 

Education:   A. A.,  earth  science,  Los  Angeles  City 
College;  B.A.,  education  and  art,  California  State 
University,  Los  Angeles;  M.A.,  California  State 
University,  Los  Angeles. 

Military  Service:   United  States  Air  Force,  1953-57. 

Spouse:   Carmen  Garrott  Riddle,  married  April  24,  1953, 
six  children. 


Sculpture  commission.  Expelled  Because  of  Color. 
Georgia  State  Capitol  grounds,  1976. 

Metropolitan  Atlanta  Rapid  Transit  Authority 
commission.  Tenth  Street  Midtown  Station,  four  walls 
sculpture,  1984. 

Georgia  Council  for  the  Arts  commission,  ten  color 
lithographs  created  for  the  Governor's  Art  Award 
Program,  1985. 

Artwork  used  on  the  set  of  the  television  series  In  the 
Heat  of  the  Night,  (MGM-UA),  1988. 

Painting  commission,  Hartsfield  Airport,  Georgia, 
Olympics  hundredth  anniversary,  1996. 

Sculpture  commission,  Seagram's  Company,  Spirits  at  the 
Gate,  1999. 

Consultant,  California  African  American  Museum. 

Two  Emmy  Awards,  for  Renaissance  in  Black:  Two  Artists' 
Lives,  1971. 


Governor's  Award,  Visual  Artist,  State  of  Georgia, 

Fulton  County,  Georgia,  Visual  Artist  of  the  Year 
Award,  1987. 




Karen  Anne  Mason,  B.A.,  English,  Sinunons  College;  M.A., 
Art  History,  UCLA. 


Place:   Riddle's  home,  Atlanta,  Georgia. 

Dates,  length  of  sessions:   September  5,  1992  (219 
minutes);  June  26,  1993  (130). 

Total  number  of  recorded  hours:   5.8  hours. 

Persons  present  during  interview:   Riddle,  Mason, 
Riddle's  wife.  Carmen  Riddle,  intermittently. 


This  interview  is  one  in  a  series  on  African  American 
art  and  artists  in  Los  Angeles.   This  oral  history 
project  gathers  and  preserves  interviews  with  African 
American  artists  who  have  created  significant  works  and 
others  in  the  Los  Angeles  metropolitan  area  who  have 
worked  to  expand  exhibition  opportunities  and  public 
support  for  African  American  visual  culture. 

The  interview  is  organized  chronologically,  beginning 
with  Riddle's  childhood  in  Los  Angeles,  California  and 
continuing  through  his  activities  as  an  artist  in  the 
Los  Angeles  area.   Major  topics  discussed  include 
Riddle's  individual  works  of  art,  African  American 
artists  in  Los  Angeles,  the  effects  of  racism,  and 
Riddle's  philosophy  of  art. 


Steven  J.  Novak,  editor,  edited  the  interview.   He 
checked  the  verbatim  transcript  of  the  interview 
against  the  original  tape  recordings,  edited  for 
punctuation,  paragraphing,  and  spelling,  and  verified 
proper  names.   Words  and  phrases  inserted  by  the  editor 
have  been  bracketed. 

Riddle  did  not  review  the  transcript  but  provided 
selected  names  when  queried.   As  a  consequence,  family 


names  and  some  acquaintances  remain  unverified. 

William  Van  Benschoten,  editor,  prepared  the  table  of 
contents,  biographical  summary,  and  interview  history. 
Ji  Young  Kwon,  editorial  assistant,  compiled  the  index, 


The  original  tape  recordings  of  the  interview  are  in 
the  university  archives  and  are  available  under  the 
regulations  governing  the  use  of  permanent  noncurrent 
records  of  the  university.   Records  relating  to  the 
interview  are  located  in  the  office  of  the  UCLA  Oral 
History  Program. 


SEPTEMBER  5,  1992 

MASON:   Hello. 

So  the  first  question  we  always  ask  is,  when  and 
where  were  you  born? 

RIDDLE:   In  Los  Angeles,  California,  March  18,  1933. 
MASON:   And  who  are  your  parents? 

RIDDLE:   John  Thomas  Riddle,  Sr.,  and  Helen  Louise 

MASON:   Okay.   Do  you  have  any  siblings? 
RIDDLE:   Yeah.   I  have  an  older  sister,  Joanne  Tyler 
Jefferson,  Judy  Keeling,  and  a  brother,  Paul  Anthony 

MASON:   Okay.   Do  you  know  much  about  your  grandparents 
and  your  family  background? 
RIDDLE:   Yes. 

MASON:   Could  you  talk  a  bit  about  that? 

RIDDLE:   Well,  let's  see.   On  my  mother's  side,  they  lived 
in  Bakersfield,  California.   That's  my  earliest 
recollection.   Although  my  mother  was  born  in  Indiana,  in 
Bloomington,  we  used  to  spend  every  summer  in  Bakersfield. 
That's  a  town  about  115  miles  north  of  Los  Angeles,  up 
Highway  99--used  to  be  99  in  those  days.   It  was  always  a 
pleasurable  trip,  and  we  would  stay  for  the  whole  summer. 

When  I  was  young,  I  didn't  realize  my  mother  and  father 
were  actually  getting  a  summer's  vacation  from  us;  we 
thought  we  were  getting  away  from  them.   But  I  think,  now 
that  I  have  kids,  they  got  the  better  deal.   [laughter] 

We  always  went  up  there  usually  for  Thanksgiving. 
And  my  grandmother,  Emma,  she  could  cook.   I  mean,  like 
everybody  says  grandmothers  could  cook.   But  she  actually 
catered  for  restaurants  and  hotels  right  out  of  her 
kitchen.   And  it  was  always  interesting.   I  don't  want  to 
associate  it  with  food  and  swimming  and  just  eating  grapes 
and  having  a  good  time,  but-- 

I  had  an  Uncle  George  who  was  divorced  and  he  had 
been  in  World  War  II  and  he  had  turned  into  an  alcoholic. 
But  he  was  like  the  classic  "black  wino"  philosopher.   I 
mean,  he  would  sit  and  drink  wine  in  the  backyard  and  talk 
until  he  fell  asleep.   I  slept  out  under  the  grape  arbor 
with  him  in  the  summer,  and  I'd  always  listen  to  him.   He 
had  a  lot  of  wisdom,  but  he  had  no  respect.   And  he  had  a 
lot  of  frustration  and-- 

MASON:   You  mean  no  respect  for  himself  or  other  people? 
RIDDLE:   Well,  I  mean,  the  fact  that  he  was  an  alcoholic, 
he  probably  didn't  have  the  greatest  respect  for  himself, 
because  that's  a  form  of  suicide.   But  he  didn't  get 
respect  from  the  other  people  in  his  family  because  they 
were  embarrassed  by  the  fact  that  there  was  an  alcoholic 

in  the  family.   He  was  kind  of  like  a  laughingstock.   But 
because  I  was  always  out  there  with  him  at  night,  and  he 
would  tell  me  different  things--  I  mean,  he  had  a  lot  of 
wisdom.   But  it's  kind  of  like  the  street  preachers.   You 
hear  them  out  there,  and  everybody's  walking  along  about 
their  own  business.   Nobody  really  pays  much  attention  to 
what  they're  saying.   And  yet  some  of  them  could  be 
geniuses  if  we  stopped  and  listened. 

MASON:   It  seems  like  every  black  family  has  one.   And 
it's  usually  the  case  where  they  were  really  ambitious 
but,  because  of  their  race  or  because  of  something  like 
that,  their  dreams  were  kind  of  thwarted  and  so  they  end 
up  being  really  self -destructive. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  that's  true.   I  remember  my  grandfather 
[inaudible]  Drisdom--  I  don't  know  how  many  times  my 
grandmother  had  been  married,  because  my  mother  was  a 
Wheeler  and  so  was--  My  Uncle  George  was  a  Wheeler.   But 
my  Aunt  Suzy,  who  lives  in  Los  Angeles--she ' s  Suzy  Johnson 
now--she  was  a  Pinkney,  and  her  brother  Oliver,  who  is 
deceased,  he  was  a  Pinkney.   And  Mr.  Drisdom,  who  was  my 
grandfather  that  I  remember--  So  at  least  there's  three 
names  there.   So  she  must  have  been  married  at  least  three 

MASON :   Yeah . 
RIDDLE:   But  he  worked  at  the  railroad.   And  he  had  like  a 

drawer ful  of  those  pocket  watches  where  the  lids  pop  open. 
He  had  a  whole  drawer ful,  and  I  always  used  to  just  be 
amazed  to  look  in  that  drawer  and  see  twenty  or  thirty  of 
those  really  nice  watches.   I  don't  know  if  they  all 
worked  or  not,  but  that's  one  of  my  memories.   Just  like  I 
had  a  memory  of  how  she  had  this  chicken  coop,  my 
grandmother,  and  she  raised  chicks,  and  she  cut  off  the 
chickens'  heads  when  it  was  time  to  eat  them  and  wrung 
their  necks,  and  they  would  flop  around  in  the  yard.   And 
we'd  all  look  like,  "Wow!"   Chickens  without  heads  trying 
to  get  that  last  flight.   You  know.   So  I  remember  those 
kinds  of  things.   It  was  always  hot,  dry. 

Then  when  I  got  older,  I  used  to  go  up  there  and 
spend  the  summer.   But  she  used  to  say,  "Well,  you're  too 
old  to  sit  around.   You  have  to  go  to  work."   And  we'd  go 
work  in  the  fields.   The  worst  job  imaginable.   And  I  used 
to  wonder  then  how  did  black  people  work  in  the  fields  for 
nothing,  because  I  was  making  like  five  dollars  a  week  and 
that  was  nothing.   It  was  hot  and  long  hours  and  picking 
onions  and  being--  Picking  onions  in  110  degrees  and 
crying  because  you  had  to  cut  the  tops  off  of  them.   And 
having  so  much  onion  juice  and  dirt  on  your  hands,  you 
couldn't  wipe  your  eyes.   You'd  just  be  out  there,  "Boo 
hoo."   And  then  people  would  take  those  onions  home  at 
night.   I  didn't  want  to  see  an  onion I   I  think  the  last 

time  I  spent  the  summer  there,  I  was  eighteen  going  on-- 
maybe,  nineteen.   And  I  came  back  to  L.A.  and  went  to 
school  that  fall  and  met  Carmen  Garrott,  who  I  married  and 
am  still  married  to.   We've  been  married  thirty-nine 
years,  now.   But  that's  another  part  of  the  story. 
MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   Now,  on  my  father's  side,  they  had  twelve  kids. 
He's  right  in  the  middle.   He  was  about  number  six.   But  I 
think  the  most  interesting  thing  is,  his  father  was  a 
preacher,  tall,  about  six  foot  five.   I  remember  he  had 
white  hair  and  he  stood  as  straight  as  a  stick  and  he  was 
real  thin.   And  his  name  was  C.  Morton  Riddle.   And  his 
wife--what's  her  name?   I  can't  think  of  my  grandmother's 
first  name;  she  was  just  Grandmother  Riddle.   I  know  her 
name  but  I  can't  think  of  it.   They  had  a  little  bit  of 
everything  in  their  family.   They  had  a  communist,  I  mean, 
which  is  really  weird.   One  of  my  father's  brothers  was  a 
communist;  one  was  a  very  successful  numbers  racketeer  and 
bookmaker.   My  father--  That  was  Edgar  [Riddle] .   Edgar 
and  my  father  looked  just  alike.   I  mean,  they  looked  like 
Indians.   They  had  very  straight  hair  and  high  cheekbones 
and  a  dark  complexion  like  they  were  Native  American 
Indians,  not  people  from  India.   I  always  remember  Edgar 
was  always  clean,  and  he  always  had  on  bad  suits  and  tough 
shoes.   But  he  was  a  very  successful  bookmaker  and  numbers 

person  in  Pasadena. 

My  father  grew  up  with  the  Robinson  family.   They 
were  like  Jackie's  older  brothers  and  all  of  that.   They 
all  knew  each  other.   And  one  of  my  father's  brothers, 
Ralph  [Riddle] ,  was  the  first  black  policeman  in  Pasadena. 
Let's  see:   Dwight  [Riddle]  was  the  communist.   Two  of 
them,  two  of  the  daughters,  never  left  home.   They  stayed 
with  their  mother  until  she  died.   I  think  one  of  them  is 
still  alive.   Geraldine  [Riddle]  is  still  alive,  and  I 
think  Flo  [Riddle]  just  passed  recently.   I  might  be  even 
getting  their  names  mixed  up,  but  they  lived  in  Pasadena 
on  Walnut  Street.   And  we'd  go  over  there  a  lot,  too, 
because  it  was  a  lot  closer.   It  was  on  the  original 
freeway  in  L.A. ,  the  Arroyo  Seco.   That  was  the  freeway 
into  Pasadena.   That  was  the  original.   That  was  the  only 
freeway  in  L.A.  at  one  time  when  I  was  a  kid.   We  used  to 
go  out  there  quite  a  bit.   My  grandfathers  died  in  their 
sixties.   My  father's  mother  lived  to  be  ninety-three,  and 
ray  mother's  mother  lived  to  be  about  eighty-four.   So  they 
lived  a  long  time.   But  I  think  the  most  interesting  thing 
was  that  C.  Morton  Riddle,  my  grandfather,  was  directly 
related  by  blood  to  Carter  G.  Woodson.   And  one  of  the 
things  that  was  really  funny  for  me  was--  I  can't  think 
quite  now  of  the  name  of  Carter  G.  Woodson's  book,  his 
quarterly  publication.   It  might  have  been  the  Negro 

Monthly  Digest  or  something  like  that.   The  Negro 
Quarterly  Digest  [Journal  of  Negro  History 1 . 
MASON:   Yeah,  I  know  what  you're  talking  about. 
RIDDLE:   It's  in  the  library  downtown.   There's  a 
gentleman  who  died  and  bequeathed  this  huge  collection. 
He  tried  to  collect  every  black  subject  book  and  every 
book  by  a  black  author  and  every  slave  narrative  out.   So 
it's  called  the  Williams  Collection.   It's  on  the  fifth 
floor  of  the  downtown  library. 

MASON:   So  he  was  going  to  be  the  southern  Arthur 

RIDDLE:   Yeah.   In  fact,  they're  rebuilding.   We  passed 
the  building  on  my  way  bringing  you  here  which  is  going  to 
be  the  Fulton  County  research  library.   That's  going  to 
house  his  collection.   They're  going  to  move  it  out  of 
there  because  too  many  people  steal  the  books  out  of 
reference,  which  is  a  disservice  to  everybody  who  is 
interested  to  hoard--  But,  then,  the  library  is  not  good, 
because  I  read--  Now,  this  is  a  divergence  right  here. 
It's  about  the  library  and  Carter  G.  Woodson.   But  I  read 
Walter  White's  The  Rope  and  the  Faggot,  which  was  the 
history  of  lynchings  in  the  United  States.   At  one  time  he 
was  the  head  of  the  NAACP  [National  Association  for  the 
Advancement  of  Colored  People],  Walter  White.   He's  a 
white-looking  man,  also. 

MASON:   Yeah,  blond,  blue-eyed. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah.   And  so  he  was  able  to  cross  back  and  forth 
across  the  color  line  and  get  information,  like  the  Spook 
Who  Sat  by  the  Door  [Sam  Greenlee] .   I  checked  the  book 
out  because  I  wanted  to  read  it,  and  it  was  a  signed  copy 
in  circulation  by  Walter  White.   So  I  got  to  read  it.   I 
took  it  back  to  the  library,  and  they  said,  "How  did  that 
ever  get  out?"   Here  it  was  an  autographed  copy  by  the 
author,  you  know?   The  library  is  not  supposed  to  be 
circulating  those.   But  anyway,  they  aren't  that  tight 
with  control.   So  it  might  be  better  for  the  Williams 
Collection  to  be  housed  in  a  place  that  has  better 

I  found  out  that  on  my  father's  side  I  was  able  to 
trace  their  history,  that  they  came  from  Virginia,  from 
West  Virginia.   From  Virginia,  first.   It  was  around  the 
time  of  Alex  Haley  and  Roots,  and  everybody  was  looking 
for  their  genealogy.   And  I  started  going,  looking  up--  I 
could  always  look  up  my  family,  because  all  I  had  to  do 
was  look  up  Carter  G.  Woodson's  name  in  Carter  G. 
Woodson's  books.   I  mean,  I'd  look  up  C.  Morton  Riddle, 
and  maybe  once  or  twice  a  year  he'd  write  an  article  about 
his  family.   And  then  by  finding  my  grandfather,  I  could 
get  these  other  names,  and  I  could  go  back  through  other 
volumes  and  look  them  up  in  the  table  of  contents.   When  I 


had  time,  I  could  always  go  in  there  and  read  something 
about  my  family  tree  on  that  side. 

The  most  interesting  thing  was  that  his  mother  was 
one  of  my  father's  great,  or  great-great,  aunts  on  that 
side  of  the  family.   So  there  was  this  direct 
relationship  between  my  father  and  Carter  G.  Woodson  and 
my  grandfather.   So  what  I  found  out  was--  Like,  I 
started  reading  this,  getting  back  further  and  further. 
And  I  read  how  in  one  episode  where  a  friend  of  my 
grandfather  smuggled  them  across  the  Saint  Charles  River 
and  into  West  Virginia--  And  he  founded  a  church  there 
because  he  was  a  minister.   Then  he  left  there  and  he 
went  to  Ohio,  where  my  father  was  born,  in  Columbus.   And 
then  he  got  a  pass  to  ship  out  in  Los  Angeles,  which  was 

My  father  went  to--  He  was  a  very  good  athlete.   He 
told  me  this  when  he  was  dying.   I  think  it  was  in  '81 
when  he  passed.   He  had  cancer  or  the  thought  of  cancer-- 
I  never  knew  whether  he  really  had  it  or  he  believed  he 
had  it,  because,  you  know--  But  anyway,  I  went  out  to  see 
him  about  three  weeks  before  he  passed  rather  than  go  to 
a  funeral--  So  I  would  sit  out  there  every  day,  and  he 
would  tell  me  stuff.   He  told  me  that  because  of  his 
Indian  looks  they  had  offered  him  a  job  to  play  baseball 
with  the  Portland  Beavers.   That  was  the  Pacific  Coast 

League  baseball  team  at  the  time.   But  he  had  to  say  he 
was  Indian  and  he  told  them  he  didn't  want  to  do  that. 
Instead,  he  went  to  the  Negro  baseball  league,  and  he 
played  with  the  Negro  baseball  league.   He  went  to  Japan 
two  times.   It  was  a  touring  black  baseball  team.   He 
used  to  have  pictures  in  his  drawer  of  him  and  these 
players  and  stuff.   My  mother  used  to  say  he  could  really 
play  baseball,  but  he  also  was--  Between,  I  guess,  1924, 
'25,  somewhere  in  there,  and  '27,  he  was  on  USC 
[University  of  Southern  California] ' s  football  team.   He 
was  the  fullback  on  their  football  team. 
MASON:   He  went  on  an  athletic  scholarship? 
RIDDLE:   No.   I  don't  know,  because  he  graduated  with  a 
degree  in  architecture.   So  I  don't  know  if  they  were 
giving  up  athletic  scholarships  then  like  they  do  now. 
MASON:   Yeah,  I  was  just  wondering  if  he  might  be  able  to 
play  sports- - 

RIDDLE:   I  mean,  it's  big  money  now,  so  that's  why  they 
do  it  now. 
MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   Because  if  you  get  to  play  in  one  of  these  bowl 
games,  it's  worth  one  million  dollar  revenue  to  your 
school  whether  you  win  or  lose.   So  they're  talking  about 
big  dough  for  the  athletic  program.   So  now  they  need 
blacks  to  be  competitive,  which  is  a  whole  other  issue. 


That's  more  closely  related  to  my  art  and  my  times. 
MASON:   No,  I  was  just  wondering  if  he  went  there  to  play 
football  or  if  he  went  there  to  get  an  architecture 
degree.   If  there  was  even  that  distinction. 
RIDDLE:   Well,  I  think,  probably  in  those  days  the 
distinctions  were  blurred. 
MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   Because  I  think  most  people  who  went  to  college 
in  those  days  got  a  degree.   Probably,  if  I  had  to  bet  on 
it,  there's  probably  a  higher  percentage  of  degreed 
athletes  then  than  there  is  now.   In  fact,  I  think  the 
demands,  probably--practice  and  all  that--were  probably 
less  then  than  they  are  now.   I  talked  to  a  guy  who  went 
to  UCLA,  a  Rhodes  Scholar  named  Hal  Griffin.   He  was  there 
back  in  the  early  sixties.   He  said  that  it  was  50  hours  a 
week  for  football  during  football  season,  and  60  hours  a 
week  of  academics  to  be  a  Rhodes  Scholar.   When  you  add  it 
all  up,  it's  7  times  24,  and  you've  taken  120  off  of  that. 
I  mean,  that's  not  much  time  to  sleep  there  or  eat  or  do 
anything  else,  because  it  comes  out  pretty  close  to  the 
same  amount  of  time.   It's  probably  about  160  hours.   So 
you've  got  40  hours  a  week  to  sleep,  over  a  seven  day 
period  to  sleep  and  go  do  everything.   So  I  mean  it's  like 
it  took  up  all  their  time,  essentially. 
MASON:   You  said  your  father  studied  architecture? 


RIDDLE:   Uh-huh.   You  know,  my  mother  went  to  USC  also. 

That's  where  they  met.   She  was  a  lawyer.   She  was  the 

first  black  women  in  the  history  of  UCLA  law  school  to  get 

a  degree.   She  got  her  degree  in  1927. 

MASON:   I'm  sorry,  she  went  to--? 

RIDDLE:   She  went  to  ' SC  also. 

MASON:   As  an  undergraduate? 

RIDDLE:   Uh-huh. 

MASON:   And  then  she  went  to  UCLA  law  school? 

RIDDLE:   No,  she  went  to  ' SC  law  school. 

MASON:   Okay. 

RIDDLE:   She  graduated  from  'SC--I  meant  to  say  ' SC — with 

the  highest--  She's  the  first  black  woman  to  ever  graduate 

from  'SC's  law  school. 

MASON:   Okay. 

RIDDLE:   And  another  thing  that  they  did--  I  mean  nobody 

knows  this,  but  when  my  father  died,  they  did  a  lot  of 

research  on  him.   My  brothers  and  sisters  sent  me  some 

articles  that  I  left  at  work.   I  wish  I  had  brought  them 

with  me.   But  she  wrote  the  words  to  USC ' s  fight  song,  but 

they  don't  get  any  credit  for  it.   She  don't  get  no 

royalties.   But  that  "Fight  on  for  Old  'SC"--  In  this 

article  they  wrote  about  my  mother  and  my  father,  and  they 

said  Helen  Wheeler  wrote  the  words  to  USC ' s  fight  song. 

We  didn't  even  know  that.   And  my  sister  was  talking 


about,  "Well,  shoot.   We  ought  to  be  able  to  sue  for  some 
royalties."   [laughter]   You  know. 

But  anyway,  they  were  at  ' SC  together.   One  last 
distinction  about  my  father  was  he  had  the  record,  athletic 
record,  for  the  most  touchdowns  ever  scored  by  a  USC  player 
from  the  time  he  played  until  Anthony  [T.]  Davis  scored 
five  touchdowns  against  Notre  Dame  in  '65.   He  was  there 
that  day,  my  father,  because  he  went  to  every  ' SC  game,  and 
they  honored  him  over  the  mike  that  Davis  had  broken  his 
record.   He  got  to  stand  up,  and  all  his  old  ' SC  buddies- - 
Because  I  used  to  go  to  some  of  those  games.   And  I  mean 
all  these  old  guys  are  sitting  there,  "Hey,  Fred!"   "Hi, 
Bill  1  "   [laughter]   So  it  was  kind  of  funny. 

And  then  generations  are  so  bad.   I  think  Ronald 
Reagan  was  governor  of  California.   We  went  to  the  Rose 
Bowl  to  see  'SC,  and  Reagan  walked  out  and  people  booed. 
And  my  oldest  son,  Tony  [Anthony  Thomas  Riddle],  he  went. 
It  was  me,  my  father,  and  my  oldest  son,  Tony.   We  went  to 
the  Rose  Bowl  and  we  were  all  in  there  and  Tony  starts 
booing.   And  my  father  was  like--  He  was  with  all  his 
cronies,  and  he  was  like,  "Shut  up!   Goddammit,  Johnny! 
Can't  you  make  him--?  That's  disgraceful!"   It  was  like  the 
generation  gap.   So  then  they  stood  up  for  the  national 
anthem,  right?   So  my  son  didn't  stand  up.   Boy,  that  just 
knocked  my  father  out.   "Goddammit,  Johnny!   Make  him  stand 


up!   All  my  friends  are  here!"   He's  talking  out  the 

corner  of  his  mouth.   "Can't  you  make  him  stand  up?   Jesus 

Christ!"   Tony  was  just  sitting  there.   Since  then,  I 

mean,  me  and  Tony  have  laughed  about  that,  and  Tony  kind 

of  feels  bad  because  he  shouldn't  have  dumped  his  protest 

over  on  his  grandfather.   You  know,  but-- 

MASON:   Because  he  had  served  in  the  war. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  and  Tony  had  a--  It  was  in  the  year  of  the 

big  naturals,  Angela  [Y. ]  Davis  and  all  that.   "Power  to 

the  people. " 

MASON:   So  it  wasn't  necessarily--? 

RIDDLE:   My  father  didn't  really--  See,  he  would  have 

joined  the  army  in  the  First  World  War,  but  he  was  too 

young.   And  I  don't  remember  now  if  he  didn't  get  to  go 

in,  or  he  didn't  go  overseas.   But  he  was  either  on  the-- 

A  little  more  than  Bill  [William  J.]  Clinton.   You  know, 

but  he's  either  on  the  periphery  of  the  army  or  in,  but  I 

don't  recall  that  now.   I  just  remember  that  he's  very 

patriotic  and  that  he  worked  at  Douglas  Aircraft  [Company] 

during  the  Second  World  War  as  a  structural  architect  on 

Douglas's  war  planes  and-- 

MASON:   Yeah.   Because  I  was  going  to  ask  you  if  he  ever 

got  a  chance  to  work  as  an  architect. 

RIDDLE:   Oh,  yeah.   Before  the  war  he  worked  with  Paul 

Williams.   He  was  with  Paul  Williams,  who  is  a  noted  Los 


Angeles  architect.   He  was  with  Paul  Williams's  firm,  and 
then  during  the  war,  he  went  to  work  at  Douglas.   And 
then,  after  the  war,  he  went  back  with  Paul  for  a  while  as 
a  specifications  writer. 
MASON:   I'm  not  sure  what  that  is. 

RIDDLE:   That's  a  person  who  writes  what--  The  specs  are 
all  the  detailed  things  of  what  are  the  specif ications- 
If  you're  going  to  put  these  windows  in  this  house,  what 
size,  what  kind  of  hardware,  what  kind  of  windows.   The 
specifics.   What  kind  of  nails.   Because  that's  all  laid 
out  somewhere  in  the  architectural  plan  for  a  structure. 
What  kind  of  doorknobs.   So  if  it's  with  plumbing,  if  you 
write  plumbing  specs,  what  kind  of  pipe,  what  size,  where 
the  bends  occur,  what  kind  of  hardware  you  would  use 
there.   So  that's,  technically,  the  specifications.   What 
kind  of  toilets.   That's  if  you're  plumbing.   ^^Jhat  kind  of 
faucets.   Anything  related  to  plumbing,  if  you're  writing 
plumbing  specs. 

So  the  rest  of  his  life--  He  always  worked  as  an 
architect  or  a  spec  writer.   So  at  the  end  of  his  life,  he 
worked  for  a  guy  who  used  to  work  for  him  named  Kerry 
Jenkins.   Kerry  Jenkins  formed  a  successful  architectural 
firm  in  Beverly  Hills  out  on  Wilshire  Boulevard,  and  my 
father  worked  for  him  until  he  died. 
MASON:   Can  you  think  of  any  specific  projects  that  your 


father  had  been  involved  with? 

RIDDLE:   Well,  one  of  the  things  that  he  used  to  always 
take  pride  in  was  up  along  those  streets  like  Rossmore 
[Avenue] ,  some  of  those  real  nice  streets  that  you  can 
take  as  corridors  to  Hollywood.   Like  above  Olympic 
[Boulevard],  and  you  go  up  Rossmore.   I  used  to  know  all 
of  those  streets.   There's  a  lot  of  English  Tudor  homes 
and  a  lot  of  really  nice  homes  there.   Well,  in  that 
year,  Paul  built  a  lot  of  those  homes.   I  mean,  it  was 
his  design  and  stuff.   My  father  used  to  go  by  and  say, 
"We  did  that  house."   And  then  we'd  go  a  little  further 
and  he'd  say,  "We  did  this  one."   And  we'd  go  down 
another  street  and  he'd  say,  "I  remember  doing  this  one." 
Between  Vine  Street  and  Wilshire,  I'd  say,  they  did  a  lot 
of  houses  in  there  that  are  still  there.   Some  of  the 
Spanish  houses.   They  both  basically  did  residential 
architecture.   At  one  time,  I  guess,  Paul  was  probably 
the  most  advanced  black  architect,  maybe  [not]  in  the 
world,  but  definitely  in  the  United  States,  at  one  time 
back  in  those  days,  in  the  thirties,  up  until  the  war. 
And  the  weirdest  thing  is,  my  wife's  family  and  my 
father's  and  my  mother  and  them,  they  all  knew  the  same 
people,  Paul  Williams  and  Delia  Williams  and  all  the 
different  people.   It's  really  weird. 

In  fact,  it's  so  weird  that  when  I  was  born-- 


There's  a  lady  named  Alice  Garrott  who  was  Carmen's 
grandmother.   I  was  born  two  years  before  Carmen,  but  my 
mother  and  father  moved  into  Alice  Garrott ' s  apartment. 
So  the  first  two  years  I  was  born,  I  lived  in  that 
apartment  of  Carmen's,  my  wife's,  grandmother.   But  I 
didn't  meet  her  until  I  was  fourteen.   We  have  this 
picture  at  Ferndale,  that  park  up  there.   It's  part  of 
Griffith  Park,  really,  but  it's  before  you  get  to 
Griffith.   They  have  like  a  little  creek  and  some 
crayfish  and  these  beautiful  ferns.   And  you  walk  down 
these  paths.   And  people  used  to  go  there  for  brunches, 
and  they  had  where  you  could  cook  out  and  have  a  nice 
lunch  and  stuff,  you  know.   But  there's  a  picture-- 
somebody  took  a  picture.   It  has  all  the  teenagers  in 
junior  high.   And  I'm  on  this  end  of  the  picture  and, 
about  eight  or  ten  kids  later.  Carmen's  on  the  other  end, 
at  the  same  picnic,  in  the  same  picture,  and  we  don't 
even  know  each  other.   So  we  always  laugh  about  that. 
MASON:   Did  you  know  all  of  the  same  people  because  of 
your  class  backgrounds  and  educational  backgrounds  and 
you  just  moved  in  certain  circles? 

RIDDLE:   I  guess  it  was  like--  See,  I  guess  in  those 
days,  in  the  black  social  circle,  it  wasn't  so  much 
education  as  it  was,  like  you  said,  it  was  like  families. 
Like,  you  know,  there  were  postal  people,  all  kinds  of — 


[tape  recorder  off]   Black  community,  the  social 
community,  it  was  like--  If  you  could  mark  the  decline  of 
it,  it's  probably  the  beginning  of  the  so-called  "year  of 
integration."   Because  before,  when  it  was  like 
segregation,  blacks  had  to  depend  much  more  on  themselves 
and  their  organizations  and  their  structures  than  they 
did  after  they  say,  "Okay,  everybody's  equal."   Although 
that's  always  been  a  lie.   The  blacks  abandoned  their  own 
entrepreneurship.   One  of  the  main  reasons  in  every  black 
city  there  was  like  a  main  black  street  was  because  the 
black  businesses  were  on  that  street.   That's  what  made 
it  the  main  black  street. 

MASON:   And  in  L.A.,  it  was  Central  Avenue. 
RIDDLE:   Yeah,  right.   And  it  was  like  the  shoe  stores. 
In  fact,  one  of  my  best  friends  in  high  school,  his 
father  owned  the  Dunlap  Shoe  Store  on  Vernon  [Avenue]  and 
Jefferson  [Boulevard] .   I  mean,  Vernon  and  Central 
[Avenue] ,  right  on  the  corner.   You  know,  everybody  went 
and  got  their  shoes  at  Dunlap' s.   I  mean,  everybody  used 
to  crack  up  because  everybody  had  on  a  pair  of  Lorenzo ' s 
father's  shoes  at  one  time,  because  that  was  a  very 
successful--  He  had  good  quality  shoes,  but  you  could  get 
them  from  a  black  person.   You  could  try  them  on.   Some 
of  those  stores,  they  probably  wouldn't  let  you  try  them 



He's  just  a  good  example  that  black  businesses 
changed.   I  was  in  a  barbershop  this  morning,  and  I  was 
thinking,  "Boy,  if  I  ever  had  a  barbershop,  my  barbershop 
would  be  called  the  'Philosophical  Barbershop.'"   Because 
when  I  was  a  kid,  that  was  a  seat  of  knowledge  and 
information  and  discussion,  like  in  Eddie  Murphy's  Coming 
to  America.   I  remember  those  kind  of  barbershops  where 
you  had  to  remember  when  you  came  into  the  barbershop  so 
nobody  could  get  their  hair  cut  ahead  of  you.   But  then 
there  was  always  conversation  about  politics  and  about 
the  neighborhood  and  philosophy.   And  there  were  like 
almanacs,  "Man,  look  in  the  almanac  1"   "Willy's  right. 
Nineteen  twenty-four . "   "Joe  Louis  knocked  out  Max 
Schmeling  in  March  such-and-such,  1938."   "Yeah,  Fred, 
you  right."   But  rather  than  just  argue,  they  always 
referred  to  the  almanac.   And  they  always  had  an  almanac. 
It  was  funny,  because  even  as  a  kid,  these  men--  You 
couldn't  jump  in.   But  it  was  funny,  all  these  different 
characters  in  the  barbershop.   Some  coming  to  get  their 
hair  cut,  some  just  coming  to  hang  out,  some  just  popping 
by  and  leaving.   But  there  was  always  like  this  turnover 
in  the  barbershop. 

But  I  was  in  the  barbershop  this  morning  and  the 
barbers  didn't  come  in  the  door  and  say,  "Hey,  hello." 
One  barber  out  of  four  came  in  and  said  hello  to  the 


people  who  were  sitting  in  there.   There's  no  interchange 
between  the  barbers;  there's  no  interchange  between  the 
customers.   It  was  like  the  epitome  of  American  evolution 
to  individualism,  where  everybody's  afraid  of  everybody. 
Nobody  talks  to  anybody.   See,  but  that's  transferred 
over  to  black  people,  too.   And  yet,  we're  basically  a 
very  verbal  race  of  people,  a  very  communal  race  of 
people  at  one  time.   We  all  came  out  of  communal 
structures  in  Africa  that  had  communal  societies  where 
everybody  was  related  in  activity  to  everybody  else.   You 
just  didn't  have  a  whole  bunch  of  people  who  were  in  the 
particular  communal  structure  who  had  no  role,  nothing  to 
do,  no  purpose,  just  sitting  around.   You  didn't  have 
that.   We  didn't  have  that  until  we  got  to  America,  and 
it  got  abstract.   I  mean,  there  wasn't  anybody  just, 
"Man,  Where's  the  rest  of  the  tribe?"   "Oh  man,  they  just 
sitting  down  on  some  logs  down  in  the  woods  just  poking 
sticks  in  the  ground  and  feeling  sorry  for  themselves." 
I  mean,  all  that  stuff  came--  It  was  a  made-in-America 

MASON:   What  was  the  religious  background  in  your  family? 
You  have  spoken  of  a  couple  of  preachers.   Or  your 
parents,  what  were  they? 

RIDDLE:   Well,  I  don't  know.   I  can  remember  my  mother 
going  to  the--I  still  remember  what  it  meant--the  AME, 


the  African  Methodist  Episcopal  church.   And  when  I  was 
in  Bakersfield,  my  grandmother's  church  was  right--  I 
mean,  she  owned  this  piece  of  land.   She  lived  on  one 
corner,  and  there  was  a  house  full  of  these  people  known 
as  the  Tomlins.   I  mean,  they  were  really  poor.   It  must 
have  been  about  thirty  of  them,  it  seemed  like,  and  they 
just  wore  the  house  to  the  point  where  the  house  just 
fell  down.   So  then  there  was  this  big  vacant  space. 
Then  right  across  from  that  was  this  church  on  the 
corner,  and  that's  my  grandmother's  church.   So  all  she 
had  to  do  was  walk  across  the  yard  to  get  to  church.   And 
she  would  make  you  go  to  church  every  Sunday.   All 
summer,  you'd  go  to  Sunday  school.   Then  Sunday  school 
was  over  and  you  came  home  and  you  had  to  hang  around  for 
about  an  hour  and  eat  something  and  then  she  dragged  you 
back  to  church.   You  sat  in  there  for  church,  and  those 
pews  would  be  hard  and  just  be  flattening  out  your 
behind.   You'd  be  fidgeting  and  the  old  people  fanning. 
And  you  couldn't  play  cowboys  on  Sunday  or  play  cards  or 
go  to  the  movies.   You  couldn't  do  nothing  on  Sunday. 
And  then  across  the  street  from  my  grandmother  was  a 
Holiness  church. 

I  hope  that  God  forgives  me,  and  the  Holiness 
people,  but  my  sister  Joanne  and  I--  See,  we  used  to  like 
to  always  sleep  outdoors.   And  when  we  slept  on  the  front 


porch,  that  was  a  favorite  place  to  sleep.   But  the 
Holiness  church  went  on  all  night.   And  they  had  like 
sextets  and  quintets  and  drums  and,  I  mean,  trumpets, 
just  like  a  jazz  group.   They'd  be  playing  those,  and  you 
could   just  hear  those  people  clapping  and  stomping  and 
these  horns  blaring.   So  we  would  always  go  over  there. 
But  when  you  went  in  the  church,  we'd  sit  near  the  back 
doors,  because  they  always  had  the  doors  open  because  it 
was  always  hot.   And  the  people  would  be  jumping  and 
shouting  and  be  right  with  this  music.   And  they  would 
actually  get  to  the  place  where  they  would  start--  Well, 
we  didn't  know  they  were  speaking  in  tongues,  but  they 
would  transcend  their  existence  and  come  over  to  the 
Lord.   And  we  used  to  think  that  was  the  funniest  thing 
you  could  see.   And  we  would  sit  there,  and  we'd  be 
trying  to--  [stifles  laughter] .   And  then  when  we  just 
couldn't  hold  our  laughter  anymore,  we'd  just  bust  out 
laughing  and  run  out  the  door.   And  nobody  ever  stopped 
us  or  told  us  that  we  couldn't  do  that,  so  that's  a  part 
of  my  church  experience.   We  used  to  take  all  our  kids  to 
church.   We  used  to  take  them  to  an  Episcopalian  church 
over  on  the  east  side,  because  we  liked  Father  Moore.   He 
always  had  these  big  things  of  incense  and  they'd  smoke 
up  the  whole  church,  and  we  liked  that.   Then  when  we  got 
older,  we  started  taking  our  kids  to  a  more  modern  church 


called  the  Church  of  Christian  Fellowship.   His  theology 

was  like  current  theology,  how  it  related  to  people  with 

families  bringing  up  kids  in  the  1950s  and  sixties. 

MASON:   So  it  was  interdenominational? 

RIDDLE:   Uh-huh. 

^4AS0N:   Non-denominational? 

RIDDLE:   Uh-huh,  uh-huh.   So  we  went  to  that  until  we 

moved.   And  then  when  we  moved  here  I  joined--all  of  us 

joined  for  a  minute--the  Reverend  Albert  Cleage ' s  Black 

[Christian]  Nationalist  Church,  the  Shrine  of  the  Black 

Madonna.   That's  the  first  time  I  ever  heard  that  God  was 

black  and  Jesus  was  black  and  it  scared  the  hell  out  of 

me  at  first,  but  then  it  made  sense.   I  mean,  because  all 

the  happenings  in  the  Christian  era,  the  time  of  Jesus' 

happening,  there  was  black  people.   And  then  when  they 

were  telling  you  about  he  had  skin  of  copper  and  hair  of 

lamb's  wool,  that  don't  sound  like  no  white  folks.   So 

then  they  started  pointing  out  all  the  other  implications 

and  things  about  Abraham  and  different  things  where  you 

could  see  quite  easily  where  it  could  be  black.   And  so-- 

MASON:   One  of  his  concubines  was  African. 

RIDDLE:   Uh-huh,  but-- 

MASON:   Did  you  do  a--?  I  think  somebody  told  me  you  did 

a  commission  for  that  church. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah.   I  painted  the  murals  in  the  church. 


MASON:   Where  is  the  church  located? 

RIDDLE:   The  murals  are  there,  but  they  dropped  the 

ceiling.   They  used  to  have  one  of  those  vaulted  ceilings 

like  in  the  old  theaters,  like  the  old  shows  down  in  Los 

Angeles,  like  the  Pantages  [Theater] .   And  then  they  had 

the  ornate  theaters. 

MASON:   It  would  be  like  the  Mayan  [Theater] . 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  yeah.   And  this  was  an  ornate  theater  here. 

I  think  originally  at  one  time  it  was  called  the  Gordon 

[Theater]  back  when  that  area--  That  area  was  the  first 

suburban  area  of  Atlanta,  a  white  bedroom  community  area. 

And  they  had  this  theater  called  the  Gordon  that  had-- 

When  the  Black  Christian  Nationalists  first  took  over  the 

church,  it  had  these  huge  plaster  reliefs  of  these  Aryan 

kind  of  semi -nude  men  and  women,  but  they  were  white.   But 

they  were  more  Aryan  than  Greek.   They  were  like  in  the 

old  Greek  statue  kind  of  thing. 

MASON:   Yeah.   It  sounds  like  something  they'd  do  in  the 


RIDDLE:   Yeah,  but  you  could  tell  that  they  looked  more 

like  the  Hitler  supermen  and  women.   They  definitely  had 

that  European  character.   They  were  definitely  pure  white. 

They  were  all--  You  know,  that  was  the  decor.   So  they 

took  some  chisels  and  just  knocked  all  that  out  and 

cleaned  it  all  up  and  replastered  the  walls.   So  I  painted 


four  sixteen-by- twenty  foot  murals  in  there.   And  then 

when  I  got  through,  my  kids  started  dropping  out  of 

church.   They  wanted  my  wife  to  be  in  charge  of  the 

nursery,  and  here  she  had  just  had  six  kids,  so  she  didn't 

want  to  take  care  of  no  more  kids  in  life.   So  she  quit, 

then  I  quit. 

^4AS0N:   What  were  the  murals  called  and  what  did  they  look 

like?   They're  still  there,  you  said. 

RIDDLE:   No,  they're  covered  up. 

MASON:   They're  covered  up. 

RIDDLE:   They're  not  painted  over,  but-- 

MASON:   They  dropped  the  ceiling  down. 

RIDDLE:   They  dropped  the  ceiling  down.   The  place  was  so 

tall,  they  could  drop  the  ceiling  down  and  still  have 

probably  about  a  sixteen  foot  ceiling. 

MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   And  it  would  still  cover  the  bottom  of  the 


MASON:   I  see.   So  they're  there  and  they're  not  really 

being  taken  care  of? 

RIDDLE:   Who  knows.   But  I  didn't  paint  them  to--  See, 

this  friend  of  mine,  he  painted  his  on  plywood  and  put  the 

plywood  up  on  the  wall.   He  painted  the  pieces  behind  the 

altar.   And  I  painted  mine  right  on  the  plaster  because  I 

thought  it  was  more-- 


MASON :   Permanent  ? 

RIDDLE:   No.   When  the  building  goes,  the  art  goes.   I 
don't  believe  in  saving  art.   You  know,  because  I  just 
thought  when  the  building  is  gone--they  tear  down  the 
building  or  it  falls  down--the  art  is  gone,  too.   But  that 
seemed  more  in  the  realm  of  the  artist  to  make  it 
permanent,  because  nothing  is  permanent  anyway. 

Then  that  was  basically  church.   Except  we  used  to 
dress  up,  clean  up,  wash  up  all  our  kids  and  put  them  in 
line  and  march  them  off  to  church  every  Sunday.   I  still 
have  pictures  of  that  in  memory  and  in  photo  albums.   But 
here  as  older  people,  we--  I  haven't  been  to  church  in  so 
long,  I'd  hate  to  confess  how  long  ago  it  was. 
MASON:   So,  let's  see.   How  was  your  family  involved  in, 
say,  the  civil  rights  movement? 
RIDDLE:   Which  one? 

MASON:   Well,  say,  in  the  fifties  in  Los  Angeles  around,  I 
don't  know,  the  Rumford  Fair  Housing  Act  and  those  kinds 
of  issues - 

RIDDLE:   Oh,  I  was  in  between,  because  I  had  joined  the 
air  force  in  '53  and  I  got  out  in  ' 57 .   I  was  married  and 
I  had  the  beginnings  of  a  family  and  I  didn't  really 
participate  in  anything.   I  mean,  there  was  a  lot  of 
things  that  you  saw,  like-- 

You  know,  it  really  came  down  to  what  Malcolm  [X] 


said,  "If  you're  south  of  the  Canadian  border,  you're  in 
the  South."   It  didn't  matter  whether  you  lived  on  the 
West  Coast,  the  East  Coast,  Michigan  or  Mississippi.   I 
mean,  again,  to  quote  Malcolm,  because  he  summed  it  up  so 
well,  "You  catch  hell  in  America  because  you're  black,  not 
because  you're  a  Christian  or  a  Republican  or  a  Democrat 
or  any  of  those  other  hyphenateds . "   I  mean,  black  people 
just  have  had  a  harder  time. 

Los  Angeles  has  a  slicker  way  of  segregation  and 
prejudicial  treatment  than,  say,  Louisiana.   Because  in 
Louisiana,  they  just  put  up  a  sign,  "No  niggers  allowed." 
But  maybe  in  California  they  didn't  have  a  sign,  but  they 
had  the  same  mental  attitude.   I  used  to  go  look  for  jobs, 
and  one  time  I  didn't  know  I  was  being  discriminated 
against.   But  now,  in  hindsight,  I  look  back  on  some  of 
those  visual  remembrances,  and  I  see  all  the  white  boys 
going  to  get  jobs  at  Southern  Bell  [telephone  company]  in 
T-shirts  with  cigarettes  rolled  up  under  their  sleeve  and 
I  was  dressed  in  a  fine  suit  from  Meyer  and  Frank  of 
Portland,  Oregon,  and  I  couldn't  get--  They  took  my 
application  and  said,  "Well,  we'll  let  you  know."   I  can 
still  see  those  white  boys  who  took  the  test  with  me 
walking  on  back  in  the  back,  going  to  phase  two,  and  I  was 
going  to  phase  out.   So,  I  mean,  you  know,  it's--  That 
part's  the  same.   It's  the  same  then  as  it  is  now  as  it 


was  epitomized  by  Rodney  King  and  the  insurrection. 
There's  nothing  changed.   I  mean,  we  left--  The  most 
brutal  police  that  there  ever  were  to  me  anywhere  I've 
ever  been  were  right  there  in  Los  Angeles. 
MASON:   I  agree. 

RIDDLE:   I  mean,  they  were  gestapo,  you  know?   I  mean, 
they  would  mess  with  you  just  to  be  messing  with  you.   And 
traffic  court--just  like  people  came  to  say  later--was 
Just  us.   Traffic  court  was  always  blacks  and  Mexicans. 
It's  just  a  system  that  we  paid  to  keep  people  employed. 
The  LAPD  [Los  Angeles  Police  Department],  they  were 
ruthless.   They  were  ruthless  before  the  Watts  riots  and 
ruthless  after  it  and  ruthless  through  Dead  Wyler  right  up 
to  Rodney  King.   I  mean,  they  still  sic  dogs  on  black 
folks.   I  mean,  that's  cold-blooded.   And  with  impunity. 
I  hated  the  LAPD.   I  thought  they  were  the  worst  people. 
And  at  one  time,  just  before  I  left,  they  were  averaging 
killing  eighteen  people  a  year  under  questionable 
circumstances,  which  is  one  and  a  half  people  a  month. 
I  can  remember  one  time  they  almost  killed  me  for 
nothing.   I  was  running  to  teach  night  school  at  L.A.  [Los 
Angeles]  High  [School],  because  I  used  to  teach  night 
school  over  there.   And  I  was  late,  because  my  friend  and 
I,  we  stopped  and  drank  a  pitcher  of  beer,  which  I 
shouldn't  have  done.   But  anyway,  I  did.   I  had  three 


hours  to  kill  between  the  end  of  school  and  night  school. 
So  I  parked  my  car  and  I  slid  across  the  seat,  and  I 
jumped  out  on  the  passenger's  side.   I  was  going  to  run 
across  the  athletic  field  because  my  ceramic  room  was 
right  at  the  gate  coming  off  the  track,  and  I  was  late. 
And  out  of  the  corner  of  my  eye,  I  saw  this  car  park 
behind  me.   I  thought  it  was  somebody  else  coming  to  go  to 
night  school.   And  I  saw  those  doors  open.   But  out  of  the 
corner  of  my  eye,  I  saw  one  man  reaching  for  something. 
And  I  stopped.   It  was  two  plain-clothes  police  that  said 
I  had  run  a  boulevard  stop  down  on--  I  forget  the  name  of 
that  street  down  on  the  other  side  of  L.A.  High,  now.   And 
they  thought  I  had  seen  them  and  I  was  trying  to  escape 
and  it  was  a  stolen  car.   They  shot  at  me.   If  I  hadn't 
seen  them  and  just  kept  running,  they'd  have  shot  me.   And 
then  they  would  have  said,  "Oh,  we're  sorry.   We  killed 
this  man  by  mistake."   And  then  when  they  found  out  I  was 
a  teacher  and  that  I  hadn't  stolen  the  car,  they  said, 
"Oh,  well,  you'd  better  get  on  to  class."   But  they  felt 
guilty  because  they  was  going  to  kill  me.   So,  I  mean, 
L.A. 's  like  that.   It  was  then;  it  is  now. 


SEPTEMBER  5,  1992 

RIDDLE:   That's  the  environment,  you  know.   But  I'm 

getting  up,  on  some  levels,  to  the  verge  of  art.   So  maybe 

I  should  back  off  from  that. 

MASON:   Okay.   So  you  went  to  school  before  you  joined  the 

air  force,  then?   A  little  bit? 

RIDDLE:   Not  really. 

MASON:   Okay. 

RIDDLE:   I  mean,  I  just  went  to  play  bid  whist  and  hang 


MASON :   Okay . 

RIDDLE:   But  then  when  I  went  in  the  service,  I  came  out-- 

You  could  get  the  GI  Bill  if  you  got  good  grades. 

MASON:   Okay.   Where  were  you  stationed? 

RIDDLE:   We  were  inducted  in  Los  Angeles.   And  we  got  on 

this  bus  going  up  to  San  Francisco  to  a  place  called 

Walnut  Creek,  which  had  this  Parks  Air  Force  Base,  which 

is  where  they  had  basic  training.   And,  as  black  people 

tend  to  gravitate  towards  each  other,  sit  together  and 

talk--  Everybody  had  their  orders  in  some  brown  envelopes 

just  like  these.   So  everybody  pulled  out  their--  The  bus 

hadn't  been  on  the  road  ten  minutes,  and  everybody  is 

pulling  out  their  orders  looking  at  their  name.    And  you 


see  "Riddle,  John  Thomas,  Jr."   Then  it  has  the  AFC- -that 
was  your  air  force  identity.   It's  almost  like  your  Social 
Security  card.   It  said,  "AF  1947  0629."   The  guy  said, 
"You'll  never  forget  that  number."   And  you  don't.   I 
mean,  like,  because  you  say  it  so  much--to  get  paid,  to  do 
this,  to  get  tested  on- -that  you  always  remembered  your 
number.   Your  rank,  your  number,  and  all  that. 

Well,  anyway,  after  every  black  person  there  was  this 
N  in  parenthesis.   Even  though  I  looked  at  mine 
individually,  I  think  everybody's  got  one.   I  see  it  maybe 
ten  or  twelve  times.   But  I'm  new  to  all  these  people  and 
I  don't  realize  that  all  the  N's  is  next  to  black  folk. 
So  it  doesn't  take  too  much  of  the  stretch  of  the 
imagination  to  hopefully  think  that  means  Negro.   So  I 
said,  "What's  this?   Eugene  Simpson,  N.   What's  yours?" 
"N.   Say,  man,  that  must  mean  'nigger.'"   We  were  fifty 
miles  out  of  L.A.  now. 

Now,  we're  figuring  they  do  that  to  all  the  blacks  so 
that,  putting  the  best  light  on  the  picture,  they  don't 
want  to  get  too  many  blacks  by  natural  selection  process 
into  the  same  group.   I  mean,  you  might  have  a  group  of 
forty  men  in  the  training  squad  or  something  like  that. 
Maybe  sixty-four,  because  I  think  it  was  sixteen  to  each 
group  and  there  were  four  groups.   And  maybe  they  might 
have  by  just  natural  selection  put  nine  blacks  over  here 


and  only  two  over  here.   But  this  way  they  can  say,  "Dut, 
dut,  dut,  dut,  black,  dut,  dut,  dut,  dut,  black,  dut,  dut, 
dut,  dut,  black."   And  they  can  spread  the  blacks  out 
evenly,  thereby  having  less  of  a  problem  by  having  too 
many  blacks  together.   Because  they  might  get  together  and 
figure  out  some  other  racist  stuff  that  was  going  on, 
right?   So,  I  mean,  this  is  like  fifty  miles  out  of  L.A. 
And  everybody  already  knows  this  much  about  it  and  we 
ain't  been  in  the  air  force  but  an  hour. 

So  then  you  find  out  when  you  get  to  technical 
school--  I  got  out  of  basic.   When  you  get  out  of  basic, 
they  give  you  a  stripe  if  you  haven't  screwed  up  in  basic. 
So  you  become  an  airman  third  class.   Yeah.   So  you  get 
out  of  basic  and  they  send  you  somewhere.   Now,  it's 
usually  to  a  training  school.   Now,  I  was  willing  to  go  to 
Biloxi,  Mississippi  to  go  to  radio  school  because  I  wanted 
to  be  on  flying  status.   That's  why  I  went  into  the  air 
force  anyway,  because  I  wanted  to  fly  all  over  the  world 
in  airplanes  and  stuff.   So  I  look  up,  and  they're  sending 
me  to  Cheyenne,  Wyoming. 

Now,  Cheyenne,  Wyoming  is  a  cowboy  hick  town.   They 
had  no  blacks  living  in  Cheyenne.   No  black  men,  no  black 
women,  no  black  families  at  that  time.   This  was  1953.   I 
got  up  to  Cheyenne.   That's  where  all  of  the  menial 
service  jobs  are:   supply  school.   That's  where  the  school 


was.   All  the  menial  stuff  listed,  all  the  no-rank.   Now, 
the  rank  was  down  in  Texas  at  aircraft  and  engines,  air 
speed  indicators.   Everything,  the  technical,  mechanical 
thing  to  make  these  planes  fly,  because  that's  what  the 
air  force  is  in  business  for.   That's  where  the  white  boys 
went.   I  didn't  know  that  until  after  I  went  through 
supply  school,  got  my  supply  number.   There  was  like  a  six 
digit  number  that  said  what  your  job  was,  and  mine  was  in 
aircraft  petroleum  and  lubricants.   POL  [petroleum,  oil, 
and  lubricants],  or  something  like  that.   Anyway,  that's 
[who]  put  the  oil  and  the  gas  in  the  planes. 

When  I  got  to  Japan,  which  was  my  next  station,  I'm 
out  on  the  flight  line,  and  all  I  see  are  white  boys.   You 
know,  but  I  mean  we'll  talk  to  them,  because  I'm  putting 
gas  in  the  planes  and  stuff.   And  we're  talking,  "Where 
you  from?"   "I'm  from  Ohio,  Mississippi,"  anyplace.   You 
know,  "Anyplace  USA."   "How  long  have  you  been  in  the 
service?"   "Oh,  I  been  in  here  eighteen  months."   You 
know,  just  basic  talk.   This  guy's  got  three,  four  stripes 
on  his  arm.   I  only  got  the  same  two  that  I  got  when  I  got 
out  of  Cheyenne,  Wyoming.   I  never  got  more  than  two  the 
whole  time  I  was  in  the  air  force.   I  used  to  look  at 
these  white  guys--they'd  be  in--  But  see,  they  want  to 
keep  you  if  you're  highly  skilled,  because  they  spend  a 
lot  of  money  to  train  you.   So  they  entice  you  with  rank. 


So  all  the  rank  is  going  to  the  guys  who  know  how  to  fix 
the  planes  and  do  these  technical  things.   But  the  people 
who  do  food  service,  make  sure  that  the  sheets  and  stuff 
get  cleaned  and  all  this  menial  stuff,  they  ain't  going  to 
get  no  rank.   So  they're  giving  all  the  rank  to  the  white 
boys.   All  through  the  service  I  saw  that. 

And  I'll  end  on  my  service  by  this:   At  one  time, 
through  the  service,  I  was  a  veterans'  counselor,  and 
these  black  guys  would  come.   This  was  the  year  when  the 
navy  and  the  air  force  and  everybody  was  trying  to  purge 
as  many  blacks  out  of  the  service  as  they  could.   So  they 
would  offer  these  black  guys  general  discharge,  anything 
but  an  honorable.   And  they  had  these  codes  on  your 
discharge  forms  that--  I  mean,  nobody  knows  that  they're 
there,  unless  you  have  the  discharge  code  book,  which  I 
had  as  a  veterans'  counselor.   I  had  access  to  it  at  one 
time.   They  had  the  worst  descriptions. 

I  mean,  it  would  say  K-3  in  some  little  box.   And  all 
you  see  is  you  got  a  general  discharge  and  you  run  out  and 
say,  "Man,  look.   I  did  my  time.   So  give  me  a  job?"   See, 
because  they  would  always  say,  "Have  you  been  in  the 
service?"   And  you'd  say,  "No."   "Well,  we  can't  hire  and 
train  you  and  we  know  Uncle  Sam  is  going  to  draft  you. 
You  go  take  care  of  your  service  obligation  and  come  back, 
and  we'll  give  you  a  job!"   That  used  to  be  the  line 


before  you  went  in  the  service.   That's  what  they  would 
all  say  to  you.   These  guys  would  come  back,  and  up  on 
here  it  would  say  K-3.   And  you'd  look  up  in  the  book. 
And  K-3  would  be  "homosexual  tendencies."   And  this  guy  is 
walking  around,  and  he  may  be  homosexual,  he  may  not  be. 
But  he's  walking  not  knowing  it  says  that.   "Thief."   I 
mean,  it  wouldn't  be  quite  that  bad,  but  it  would  be 
"distrustful,  dishonest."   And  these  employers  could  look 
and  "Sorry,  Mr.  Jones.   We  don't  have  any  work  today." 
See  now,  they  are  shooting  people  down  like  that,  and 
these  people  are  running  around  thinking  they  got  a  good 

Now,  the  service  was  doing  that  right  up  until  the 
time  where  they  said,  "Let's  have  an  all-volunteer  army." 
I  don't  know  if  you  remember  that.   Because  it  was  a  semi- 
peacetime.   The  white  boys  could  make  more  money  not 
messing  with  the  service.   The  draft  wasn't  drafting 
people.   So  let's  have  an  all-volunteer  army.   So  blacks 
started  gravitating  towards  that,  because  there's  two 
things  about  the  service:   If  you  stay  and  you  do  your 
job,  you're  going  to  get  promoted.   And  rank  rules.   A 
sergeant  can  tell  a  corporal  what  to  do,  a  corporal  can 
tell  a  private,  a  lieutenant  can  tell  a  sergeant,  the 
captain--  I  mean,  it's  there.   It's  the  rank.   And  if  you 
go  against  the  rank,  you  get  busted.   You  get  put  out  of 


the  service  for  not  cooperating.   So  here's  a  chance  for 
some  blacks  to  have  a  skill,  have  a  guaranteed  job--which 
is  another  hard  thing  for  black  folk- -and  have  authority 
over  other  people  based  on  rank. 

So  blacks  gravitated  to  the  service,  the  same  way 
they  did  to  the  post  office.   Back  in  my  mother's  time, 
she  worked  in  the  post  office.   The  joke  was,  "Where  can 
you  find  more  Ph.D.'s  than  anywhere  else  in  black  America? 
In  the  post  office."   Because  even  though  you  might  be  a 
Ph.D.,  you  couldn't  get  no  job,  so  you  had  to  work  in  a 
post  office.   You  were  a  clerk.   They  weren't  usually 
carriers,  but  they  were  usually  the  clerks,  the  people  who 
cased  up  the  mail  and  got  the  mail  ready  for  the  carriers 
to  take  out.   And  it  was  the  same  there,  except  it  was 
reverse.   Blacks  had  seniority.   And  then,  all  of  a 
sudden,  the  next  thing  you  heard  coming  out  of  the 
Pentagon,  there's  too  many  black  people  in  the  army,  too 
many  in  the  air  force,  too  many  in  the  marines.   We've  got 
to  abolish  this  volunteer  service,  because  blacks  was 
overusing  it.   It  scared  the  hell  out  of  them  white 
people,  just  like  you  said  about  the  art. 

Anytime  the  white  people  see  the  black  people  making 
progress,  it  scares  the  hell  out  of  them.   It  shouldn't, 
but  it  does.   If  you  complete  your  education,  and  you 
start  making  headway,  it's  going  to  be,  "Oh,  we've  got  too 


many  tenured  blacks  on  our  faculty.   Isn't  that--"  You 
scare  white  people,  because  you  beat  the  system.   You're 
not  in  the  prison  system,  you're  not  on  drugs,  you're  not 
a  prostitute,  you're  not  on  welfare.   You  can  beat  their 
system.   That  makes  you  dangerous.   They've  got  to  figure 
out  how  to  pick  you  off  some  kind  of  way.   "Well,  how'd 
this  Negro  get  through?   Where  did  we  go  wrong?" 
[laughter]   "Put  out  a  study."   [laughter]   Those  kinds  of 
things.   I  mean,  but  that's  America. 

MASON:   Yeah.   Well,  how  long  did  you  stay  in  Japan? 
RIDDLE:   Two  years.   Twenty- two  months,  actually. 
MASON:   Did  you  like  it  there?   Or  what  did  you  get  out  of 
being  in  Japan,  if  anything? 

RIDDLE:   Well,  I  think  the  most  memorable  was  the  two 
seventeen-day  ocean  voyages  to  Japan.   I  look  back  and 
that  was  magnificent,  being  in  the  middle  of  the  Pacific 
Ocean  in  the  middle  of  the  night  with  the  moon  shining  on 
the  water.   Everything  was  silent,  even  on  a  night  when 
there  was  no  moon  and  it  was  pitch  black  and  all  you  could 
hear  was  the  sound  of  the  water  against  the  ship  and  the 
ocean  in  general.   I  mean,  you  couldn't  see  nothing. 
That's  spectacular:   seeing  the  ocean--  We  went  through  a 
storm,  and  seeing  the  ocean  in  a  storm  stage  with  huge 
waves  and  gray  and  misty  and  you  couldn't  see  that  far 
ahead  of  the  ship--  The  immensity  of  the  ocean.   It's  a 


good  thing  to  put  you  in  size  and  world  relationship  to 
your  surroundings,  to  be  just  a  little  thing.   I  think 
about  it  now,  and  I  think  about--  That's  one  of  my 
favorite  things,  is  the  middle  passage.   I  think  about  how 
they  used  to  talk  about  scurvy  and  beriberi,  lack  of  fresh 
water  and  this  and  that.   And  then  you  think  about  those 
black  people  in  the  ship.   But  that  was  very  memorable. 
The  thing  that  I  found  out,  too,  it  was  the  first 
time  I  found  out  how  much  black  people  think  alike, 
although  we  don't  admit  it  and  we  don't  cooperate  with 
each  other.   I  remember  walking  down  in  Japan  in  a  place 
called  Fukuoka  City--that's  where  I  was  stationed,  down  at 
Itazuki  Air  Force  Base  on  the  island  of  Kiushu,  down  in 
southern  Japan.   I  hadn't  been  there  maybe  a  month,  and  I 
passed  this  black  soldier  walking  down  one  of  these  dark 
streets.   And  he  said,  "Hey,  brother."   I  said,  "Uh-huh, 
what's  happening  man?"   We  did  the  usual  black  greetings, 
you  know.   "Where  do  all  the  black  folk  hang  out?"   I 
always  remember  that.   You  know,  black  folk  always  want  to 
find  out  when  they 're  in  a  strange  place  where  do  the 
other  black  people  hang  out.   And  then  I  noticed  how  many 
black  people  have  mustaches  and  beards.   And  I  used  to 
wonder--  All  black  men  have  mustaches.   You  couldn't  have 
a  beard  in  the  service,  but  they  all  had  mustaches.   "Why 
do  blacks  all  have  mustaches?"   So  I  cut  mine  off  because 


I  didn't  want  to  participate  in  some  blackness  that  I 
didn't  know.   I  would  just  be  carried  along  with  the  mass 
of  black  folk.   Because  I  like  to  know  why  I  do  what  I  do, 

I  remember  that.   Then  I  remember  that  after  you  get 
over  your  initial  culture  shock  about  being  in  a  strange 
place,  you  find  out  that  the  Japanese  people  didn't  like 
us  at  all. 

MASON:   They  don't  like  anybody  who's  not  Japanese. 
RIDDLE:   Yeah,  that's  true.   They're  like  the  French  on 
that  level.   But  the  white  people  that  I  was  with,  they 
thought  the  Japanese  loved  them. 
MASON:   They  thought  what? 

RIDDLE:   I  mean,  the  white  guys  that  were  over  there  in 
Japan,  a  lot  of  them  thought  the  Japanese  people  loved 
them.   And  yet,  to  me  maybe  because  I  have  that--  See,  we 
all  have  that  antenna  as  black  people.   Anything  racial 
and  these  little  antenna  come,  and  they  be  searching  for 
the  direction  where  the  racism  is  coming  from,  you  know. 
Overt,  covert,  still  it  would  set  off  them  antennas.   I 
just  noticed  that  they  didn't  like  us.   But  I  did  notice 
that  if  you  took  the  time  to  be  involved  in  their  culture, 
to  learn  their  language  to  the  degree  that  you  were  trying 
to  deal  with  Japanese,  to  that  degree  they  would  accept 
you  up  to  the  point  of  what  we  call  now  in  current  jargon 


the  "glass  ceiling."   There  was  a  certain  barrier  that 
you'd  never  cross  over  if  you  weren't  Japanese.   But  they 
didn't  see  that.   I  used  to  always  see  this--  I  still, 
when  I  think  about  Japan,  I  see  this  huge  twenty- foot-high 
chain-link  fence  around  the  unapproachable  parts  of  the 
Japanese  culture  that  the  Americans  were  not  going  to  be 
involved  in.   So  I  remember  that. 

MASON:   Were  you  interested  at  all  in  the  art  and 
architecture  that  was  there?   No? 

RIDDLE:   Uh-uh.   [negative]   The  service  is  the  dawn  of  my 
interest  in  art,  though.   When  I  left  Japan,  I  went  to 
Portland,  Oregon,  and  I  was  a  clerk.   I  sat  at  this  desk 
right  in  front  of  this  clock--although  the  clock  was 
probably  fifty,  sixty  feet  away--but  it  was  up  on  this 
wall.   It  was  a  big,  old  clock.   And  you  could  sit  there 
and  watch  how  much  time  you  had  left  in  the  service.   Tick 
tock,  tick  tock.   And  I  mean,  just  sitting  there  I  learned 
a  lot  of  things.   I  learned  that  I  smoked  cigarettes  every 
forty-five  minutes.   Because  I  was  sitting  next  to  this 
guy  named  Mudget,  a  white  guy.   He  smoked  every  fifteen. 
Every  fifteen  minutes  I  could  hear  him  rustling  in 
his  pocket,  getting  out  his  Lucky  Strikes.   And  I  was 
always  looking  at  the  clock,  and  I  began  to  see  that  there 
was  a  correlation  between  12:00,  12:15,  12:30,  12:45,  and 
1:00  and  Mudget  digging  in  his  pockets.   Then  I  started 


noticing  that  if  he  was  on  a  time  frame,  I  was  too.   And  I 
noticed  mine  was  every  forty- five  minutes  I  lit  a 
cigarette.   So  then  I  got  to  the  point  where  I  wouldn't 
smoke  as  long  as  I  could  last.   And  I  got  so  I  could  get 
to  10:00,  11:00,  12:00,  1:00.   Then  I  got  to  the  place 
where  I  didn't  have  to  smoke  no  more.   So,  I  mean,  I  liked 
it  for  that. 

There  was  a  guy  sitting  over  on  this  side.   He  was  a 
staff  sergeant  named  Tony  Hoffus  and  he  had  been  in  the 
air  force  long  enough  to  have  been  a  prisoner  of  war  in 
the  Second  World  War.   This  was  like  '56  so,  you  know,  he 
was  a  career  soldier.   He  had  a  tattoo,  one  of  those  kind 
of  prison  camp  tattoos  that  the  Germans  put  on,  like  the 
Jews  always  show  their  number?   See,  they  would  actually 
take  and  tattoo  with  India  ink  a  permanent  number  on  you. 
He  had  one  of  those  numbers  from  when  he  was  in  a  prisoner 
of  war  camp.   He  had  gotten  captured  by  the  Germans.   But 
he  was  Dutch,  so  they  didn't  kill  him  like  they  might  have 
a  Jewish  person.   But  anyway,  he  loved  Rembrandt,  and  he 
was  always  looking  at  Rembrandt.   He  said,  "John,  John, 
look  at  this."   And  I'd  look  at  Rembrandt.   Then  I  started 
liking  Rembrandt. 

MASON:   Was  he  a  practicing  artist? 

RIDDLE:   No,  he  was  a  connoisseur.   He  liked  music  and 
art.   He  was  like  the  classic  music  appreciation  person. 


He  felt  that  music,  art  was  important  in  his  life.   He  used 
to  have  my  wife  and  I  over  to  dinner,  he  and  his  wife, 
Katie.   And  they  had  like  a  Rembrandt --you  know,  it  was  a 
reproduction,  obviously--of  the  girl  with  the  broom  in  the 
half  door.   It  shows  this  girl,  she's  leaning,  looking  out 
the  half  door,  and  there's  a  broom  with  her.   And  I  liked 
that  picture  so  much. 

I  mean,  I  learned  from  him  a  lot  about  art,  but  I  also 
learned  that  in  this  modern  age  of  black  printmakers,  for 
instance,  and  photo-reproduced  artworks  that  everybody 
has--  That  they're  popular.   Like  Varnette.   I  mean,  I  know 
Varnette  Honeywood,  because  she  was  a  student  when  I  was 
teaching  at  L.A.  High.   I  never  had  her  in  a  class,  but  I 
knew  her  then,  and  I  still  do.   But  see,  black  people  will 
pay  a  lot  of  money  for  a  reproduction  of  a  print,  not  even 
a  handmade  one  by  the  artist  actually  doing  the  work,  but  a 
machine-made  copy  in  additions--like  Ernie  Barnes--of 
thirty  thousand,  right?   And  I  learned  from  Tony  that  if 
you  could  go  buy  a  reproduction  of  a  Rembrandt  for  two 
dollars,  that  reproductions  only  have  value  aesthetically. 
They  didn't  have  value  of  appreciation  as  art.   They 
didn't  have  value  of  appreciation  as  an  investment  or  any 
of  that-- just  appreciation  of  the  work  itself.   And  it's 
hanging  in  your  house  because  you  like  it. 

So,  I  mean,  I  learned  a  lot  of  things,  but  I  didn't 


know  that  I  was  going  to  like  art.   Because  I  got  out  of 
the  service  and  you  could  go  to  school  on  the  GI  Bill.   I 
wanted  to  be  a  geologist,  because  I  liked  earth  science. 
So  I  studied  that  through  almost  two  years  at  LACC  [Los 
Angeles  City  College] .   The  place  where  I  used  to  go  play 
bid  whist,  now,  I  was  back  at  the  same  place  studying.   I 
got  my  first  degree  I  ever  got  in  any  kind  of  educational 
institute.   I  didn't  get  a  high  school  diploma;  I  didn't 
get  a  junior  high  diploma.   I  always  hung  with  the  bad 
kids,  and  I  always  managed  to  get  kicked  out  of  the  school 
by  graduation  time.   So  the  first  diploma  I  ever  got  was 
associate  of  arts  from  L.A.  City  College  over  there  on 
Vermont.   And  that  was  right  at  the  time  it  was  turning 
into--  The  Cal[ifornia]  State  Pomona  campus  was  on  L.A. 
City  College's  campus.   Then  they  moved  out  there,  out  San 
Bernardino  freeway  to  where  they  are  now.   It's  now  Cal 
State  University,  L.A. 
MASON :   Okay . 

RIDDLE:   But  at  that  time,  it  was  at  City  College  campus. 
Then  it  moved  out  and  started  the  campus  that ' s  out  there 
now.   A  lot  of  my  friends  transferred,  because  they  said 
they  wanted  to  go  to  a  state  college.   I  stayed  because  it 
was  cheaper.   You  could  go  to  City  College  for  six  dollars 
a  semester  plus  books.   So  you  couldn't  beat  that. 
MASON :   No . 


RIDDLE:   Plus,  I  mean,  it  was  right  in  town,  whereas  you 
had  to  go  way  out  there  to  the  San  Bernardino  freeway  to 
get  to--  It  seemed  like  a  long  way,  but  after  I  started 
going  there,  it  wasn't  that  long  a  way  anyway. 

But  I  got  an  associate  of  arts,  and  it  was  the  first 
time  I  ever  got  to  wear  one  of  those  caps  and  gowns.   That 
kind  of  was  very  influential,  because  when  I  got  to  the 
junior  and  senior  year  of  college,  I  made  the  dean's  honor 
list.   So  I  had  gone  off  from  being  what  my  mother  and 
father  wanted  me  to  be  like  when  I  was  in  public  school  to 
finally  what  I  should  have  been.   But  it  took  the  maturity 
of  the  service.   I  don't  know.   I  come  back  and  all --not 
all,  but  a  lot--of  my  friends  were  dead,  a  lot  of  them  in 
jail,  a  lot  of  them  whose  lives  was  all  screwed  up.   So  it 
was  good  for  me  to  get  out  of  L.A. 

MASON:   You  can  get  that  way  from  playing  bid  whist  all 
the  time? 

RIDDLE:   Well,  that  was--  Well,  yeah.   See,  we  used  to 
ditch  school  and  play  bid  whist  and  go  over  to  this  friend 
of  mine,  where  all  the  kids  hung  out,  named  Earl  Tatum. 
Instead  of  going  to  high  school,  we  would  go  hang  out  at 
Earl's  house  and  play  bid  whist  and  get  in  trouble.   But 
you  know,  the  weird  thing  is  that  there  was  no  incentive 
even  then  for  emphasis  on  black  males  to  become  all  they 
could  be.   The  emphasis  then,  as  it  is  now,  is  a  kind  of 


self -destructive  thing. 

I  remember  I  did  a  piece  of  art  once  called  The  Pre- 
programmed, and  it  was  based  on  the  fact  that  black  youth 
were  pre-programmed  to  do  what  they're  doing  now.   Except 
the  drive-by  shootings  and  the  murder  thing  wasn't  in  it 
when  I  grew  up,  but  everything  else  was.   It  was  just 
negative  behaviour.   Negative  outlook.   Develop  your 
exterior.   Have  a  front.   Be  cool.   Be  hip.   Even  if  you 
don't  have  nothing,  look  hip.   Look  like  you  had 
everything.   Walk  like  you  had  everything.   Have  a 
pimpstep  in  your  walk.   Talk  plenty  of  stuff,  and  let  all 
of  that  exterior--  Stand  on  the  corner  with  the  other  men 
and  hold  your  private  parts  to  show  you  was  a  man.   All 
those  other  black  games  that  we  still  play  that  spin  off 
into  basketball  and  other  things.   You  know?   But  black 
people  have  always--  Black  men  have  always  emphasized  the 
exterior,  the  illusion  that  "Yeah,  man,  I've  got  it  all." 
They  ain't  got  nothing.   And  everybody  else  know  you  don't 
have  nothing,  but  nobody  said,  "Man,  you  ain't  got 
nothing."   They  said,  "You  bad,  man."   They  know  you  ain't 
got  nothing.   Talking  about  you  bad  because  you  got  on 
some  $200  tennis  shoes.   So  it  was  fronting  then,  and  it's 
fronting  now. 

MASON:   What  medium  was  that  piece  that  you  were  talking 


RIDDLE:   It  was  a  painting.   But  I  always  have  done--  Not 
always.   I  kind  of  wanted  to  just  be  an  abstract  painter. 
But  then  I  remember  when  I  read  Seize  the  Time:   [The 
Story  of  the  Black  Panther  Party]  in  ' 68  and  Bobby  Seale 
said  in  there--  He's  a  got  a  line  in  there  where  he  says, 
"Art  ain't  shit."   And  when  I  read  that  I  was  just 
completing  nine  years  of  night  school,  because  I  always 
went  to  school  at  night  because  I  always  had  a  family.   It 
took  me  nine  years  from  the  time  I  went  to  City  College  to 
the  time  I  graduated  from  Cal  State  with  a  B.A.  in 
education.   It  took  me  nine  years  of  night  school  to  pick 
up  four  years'  worth  of  credentials.   But,  I  mean,  I  never 
quit.   I  used  to  think,  if  you  quit--  Wherever  you  stop  on 
any  odyssey  in  your  life,  if  you  quit,  that's  where  you'll 
be.   Now,  you  may  have  to  cut  back  from  running  to 
crawling,  but  you've  got  to  keep  making  a  little  forward 
progress.   You've  got  to  do  that.   Because  once  you  stop, 
it's  harder  to  start  it  all  up  again. 
MASON:   So  what  degree  were  you  going  for  at  night? 
RIDDLE:   Well,  I  switched  from  geology  and  earth  science 
to  art.   And  then  I  was  in  art  and  English.   I  said  I'd 
better  get  a  job  teaching  school,  because  I  had  a  family. 
And  then  I  switched  from  geology  to  art  with  an  art  minor 
and  an  English  major.   And  then  art,  I  started  liking  it 
more.   So  art  took  over  as  a  major,  English  took  the 


minor.   By  the  time  I  graduated,  I  had  a  B.A.  in  education 
with  an  emphasis  on  being  an  art  teacher. 
MASON:   Did  you  have  to  pick  a  medium?   Painting  or 

RIDDLE:   Actually,  I  started  off  painting,  but  I  liked--  I 
found  an  interesting  thing  in  school,  because  you  had  to 
take  all  the  different  classes.   I  can  remember  when  I 
took  ceramics  just  as  an  elective.   And  I  remember  one  day 
sitting  at  the  potter's  wheel,  and  I  was  making--  Because 
they  won't  let  you  on  the  potter's  wheel  at  first.   They 
make  you  do  hand  construction,  learn  the  theory  and 
techniques  and  all  of  that,  some  glazes.   The  thing  I 
remember  was  making  a  piece  of  pottery,  and  I  lost  it  on 
the  wheel.   I  took  it  off  and  I  set  it  over  there,  and  I 
started  on  another.   I  was  centering  and  I  happened  to 
look  over  at  this  piece,  and  I  realized  that  it  was  a 
three-dimensional  blob.   It  created  its  own  shadows,  it 
occupied  its  own  space.   You  didn't  have  to  draw  it 
because  it  was  already  there.   You  didn't  have  to  try  to 
render  shadows  and  values  and  everything  because  they  were 
already  there.   You  didn't  have  to  try  to  figure  out  where 
the  opening  in  the  piece  would  be,  what  they  call  the 
negative  space,  because  it  was  already  there. 

I  became  intrigued  with  that.   I  said,  "Well,  I  like 
sculpture  better."   Because  even  though  I  might  not  be 


able  to  draw  that  exact  edge  that  I  want,  I  could  take 
that  clay  and  I  could  push  it  and  bend  it  until  I  saw  the 
formal  relationship  between  what  I  was  trying  to  do  and 
what  came  in  the  next  part.   I  could  see  that  continuity 
because  it  was  there.   If  you  turned  it  real  slow  and  it 
made  sense  over  here,  but  you  turned  it  over  here  and 
there  was  no  relationship,  then  you  had  to  effect  some 
kind  of  change  between  this  side  and  that  side.   And  then 
you  start  thinking  analytically,  like,  "What  would  an  ant 
see  if  he  crawled  along  the  table  and  he  looked  up?" 
Because  you've  got  all  these  views. 
^4AS0N:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   But  you  didn't  have  to  draw  them.   Like,  you  try 
to  sit  up  and  draw  six  views  of  the  same  vase  from  one 
position.   So  you're  only  seeing  one  reality,  the  other 
five  are  your  imagination.   But  if  you  put  it  on  a 
turntable  and  you  turn  it  slowly,  you  can  use  that  energy 
that  you're  trying  to  imagine;  you  can  put  that  direct 
energy  into  the  transformation  of  concept  to  reality.   So 
I  liked  that,  you  know.   And  so  I  began  to  think-- 
MASON:   So  you  stopped  painting,  and  then  you  went  into 
RIDDLE:   Well-- 
MASON:   Well-- 
RIDDLE:   Sort  of. 


MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  in  a  way.   And  then  a  weird  thing  happened 
one  time,  because  I  like  printmaking,  too.   Etching.   But, 
I  mean,  you  had  to  work  like  hell  for  an  etching.   You  had 
to  work  the  plates  and  you  had  to  ink  them  and  you  had  to 
soak  the  paper  and  put  it  in  a  blotter  so  it  would  be  just 
right  when  you  put  it  through  the  press.   You  had  to  wipe 
the  plates  where  the  highlights  were  supposed  to  be  and 
all  the  ink  was  in  the  right  place.   You'd  run  it  through 
the  press  and  then  you ' d  take  the  paper  and  tape  it  up  to 
the  wall  so  the  paper  wouldn't  get  crinkled  when  it  dried. 
Because  it  was  really  100  percent  rag--good  paper.   All  of 
that  for  one  print,  and  then  you  might  not  like  it,  you 
know.   And  I  mean  it  was  drudgery.   But  I  mean,  it  was 
discipline.   But  it  was  a  form,  and  I  liked  it. 

Then  one  day  I  went  to  a  faculty  art  show  where  all 
the  faculty  people  had  the  chance  to  put  their  art  up  for 
the  students  to  see.   I  think  this  guy's  name  was  Mr. 
Fifer  or  something  like  that.   Something  with  an  F.   Mr. 
Fiedler.   And  Mr.  Fiedler,  what  had  happened  at  that  time, 
he  was  my  printing  teacher,  but  he  had  paintings.   I 
always  was  familiar  with  his  print  work.   And  to  see  his 
paintings,  I  mean,  it  was  like  he  had  been  completely 
unchained  from  the  technical  drudgery  process  to  the 
direct  process.   If  you  want  red,  you  stick  your  brush  in 


the  red,  hit  the  canvas.   I  mean,  he  had  so  much  freedom 
and  just  energy  and  movement.   And  I  was  looking  at  his 
art.   And  I  came  back  and  said,  "Mr.  Fiedler,  I  noticed, 
when  you  don't  make  prints,  you're  so  free."   He  said, 
"Oh,  I  feel  so  free.   I  may  never  go  back  to  printmaking. " 
Because  he  had  just  discovered  this. 

So  then  I  found  out  that  art  is  boring.   So  I  found 
out  that  if  you  switched  from--  You  did  sculpture  till  you 
got  tired  of  it,  then  you  switched  to  painting,  and  then 
you  switched  to--  At  that  particular  time,  I  could  do 
painting,  sculpture,  and  ceramics.   They  were  all  a 
different  medium.   But  by  switching  and  always  seeing  what 
I  saw  as  the  relationship,  anyway,  between  the  three,  I 
always  had  a  fresh  media  to  work  with.   That  way  I  didn't 
get  bored  and  stressed  out  by  the  fact  that  I'm  tired  of 
this,  you  see.   So  that  way  I  felt  like  I  could  keep  a 
continual  kind  of  growth  going,  and  that's  how  I  evolved 
into  always  switching  media.   So  like,  right  now,  I'm 
painting,  but  I'm  thinking  I've  got  to  move  to  assemblage, 
because  assemblage  is  the  beginning  of  the  manipulation  of 
physical  objects,  even  if  they're  painted.   Still,  you've 
got  to  start  using  nail  and  glue  and  other  things  besides 

MASON:   What  was  the  first  assemblage  that  you  can 


RIDDLE:   The  first  ones  I  really  did  were--  I  mean,  I 

guess  I  had  done  some  others.   Well,  I  had  been  welding, 

too.   I  used  to  love  to  weld  found  objects.   I  think  all 

my  materials  I  wanted  to  come  out  of  things  that  people 

had  discarded  that  I  could  reclaim--  Burnish  up,  polish 

up.   You  always  had  to  cut  a  piece  or  a  part  off.   I  had 

this  rule:   you  couldn't  take  the  found  object  in  its 

exact  context  and  stick  it  in  some  art.   You  had  to  cut  a 

piece  off;  you  had  to  do  something  to  it  so  it  wasn't  the 

same  as  what  you  found.   But  it  was  still  either 

symbolically  recognizable  as  being  what  it  was  or  fit  some 

other  purpose  in  the  context  of  parts. 

MASON:   I  think  you  have  one  picture  of  one  of  the  earlier 


RIDDLE:   Oh,  yeah.   Those  are  funny  pieces. 

MASON:   They're  what  pieces? 

RIDDLE:   That's  when  I  used  to  sweep  stuff  out  of  the 

middle  of  the  street . 

MASON:   Okay.   This  is  from  Black  Artists  on  Art  and  it's 

called  Street  Trial  and  it's  dated  1968  and  it's  welded 


RIDDLE:   We  were  talking  about  how  cold-blooded  the  police 

are.   And  that  was  like  the  police  arrested  you,  tried 

you,  and  convicted  you  right  in  the  street  with  their 

guns.   That's  why  that  man  had  that  big  hole  in  him.   But 


like  all  of  these  pieces--  I  used  to  get  up  in  the 
morning,  like  on  Sunday  morning,  and  take  a  cardboard  box, 
a  dustpan,  and  a  broom,  and  drive  and  park. 

I  don't  know  how  long  you've  been  in  Los  Angeles,  but 
at  one  time  in  Los  Angeles  they  used  to  have  these  signs 
that  the  traffic  department  would  put  out  and  then  pick 
them  up  every  day.   And  they  would  say  "No  left  turn." 
And  they  would  put  them  right  in  the  middle  of  the 
intersection.   And  they  would  be  facing  so  that--  You 
know,  what  directions  the  people  could--  If  they  didn't 
want  anybody  to  turn  left,  they'd  have  two  facing  this  way 
and  two  facing  this  way.   So  everybody  saw  "No  left  turn" 
during  certain  hours.   Then  they  would  come  along  with 
this  truck,  and  a  guy  would  pick  them  up  and  put  them  back 
in  the  truck.   The  truck  would  never  stop  rolling.   He 
would  just  go  real  slow.   He'd  take  them  up  and  stash  them 
somewhere  till  the  next  day.   But  now,  in  the  center  of 
the  intersections,  even  after  they  stopped  using  that 
method  of  traffic  control  in  Los  Angeles,  all  the  debris 
from  the  tires  is  pushed  to  the  middle.   It's  still  there. 

If  you  drive  through  the  middle  of  the  intersection 
in  the  left-hand  lane,  [if]  you  get  right  in  the  middle, 
you'll  see  "od"  from  "Ford"  where  somebody  hit  somebody 
else  and  part  of  their  grille  parts  had  fallen  off.   Now, 
this  was  before  everything  was  plastic,  too.   See,  most  of 


the  stuff  in  the  street  was  metal.  Now  it's  plastic  and 
rubber,  so  it  was  harder  to  deal  with.  But  there  were 
always  screws  and  nuts  and  bolts  and  bottle  caps  and  all 
kinds  of  weird  things  that  you  would  never  expect.  So  I 
would  go  out  and  harvest  the  intersections .  I'd  sweep  up 
five  or  six  intersections,  come  home,  dump  the  stuff  out 
on  a  big  table  and  sort  the  dirt.  Because  you'd  get  all 
the  rocks  and  glass  and  everything,  too.  And  if  I  found 
an  interesting  piece,  I'd  set  that  aside. 

So  I  would  have  me  this  whole  collection  of  just  what 
I  called  fragments  that  I  was  going  to  turn  into  ghetto 
flowers.   I  was  just  going  to  take  some  brass  rod  and  weld 
them,  fuse  them  together  by  dripping.   I  used  to  have  all 
kinds  of  methods.   One  time  I  took  a  hubcap.   It  didn't 
melt.   I  don't  know  what  it  was  made  of,  but  brass 
wouldn't  stick  to  it.   I  could  just  put  ghetto  parts  in 
there  from  the  intersections,  and  they'd  all  kind  of 
gravitate  to  the  concave  surface.   And  I  could  just  use 
that  and  drop  molten  brass  rod  in  there,  and  that  would 
stick  all  these  different  parts  together.   Then  I  would 
have  something  that  was  shaped  like  the  inside  of  the 
hubcap.   But  it  was  all  these  different  fragments.   So  I 
put  a  stem  on  it,  and  it  was  a  ghetto  flower. 

But  then  when  I  got  more  interested  in  the  prison  and 
in  the  police  and  all  that,  I  started  making  people.   But 


these  people  actually  evolved  from  ceramics  when  I  used  to 
do  ceramics.   This  is  probably  a  machine  cut  out  that  was 
kind  of  bent.   And  this  is  a  glob  of  something  that  was  in 
an  intersection.   I  used  to  just  go  around  just  looking. 

One  of  the  most  interesting--  I  don't  know  if  you 
know  Bill  [William  E.]  Pajaud? 
MASON:   Yeah,  we  interviewed  him. 

RIDDLE:   Me  and  Pajaud--  He  was  at  Atlanta  Life.   He  was  a 
curator  for  their  art  collection.   He  was  an  artist,  but 
he  had  quit  doing  art  though.   He  said,  "Man,  art's  too 
hard.   I  quit.   I  ain't  doing  it."   So  I  used  to  go  get 
him  on  Saturday  and  drag  him.   "Come  on,  Pajaud.   We're 
going  to  do  art."   And  he  would  go  sketch,  and  I  would  go 
sketch.   But  we  sketched  totally  different  things.   But 
every  Saturday  morning  I'd  go  get  Pajaud  and  I'd  sweep  up 
some  intersections  and  go  to  the  junkyard  and  we'd  hang 
out  for  maybe  three  or  four  hours . 

I  talked  to  Pajaud  yesterday.   He's  in  Las  Vegas, 
now.   I  found  a  picture  of  his  father  [William  E.  Pajaud, 
Sr.].   His  father  was  a  musician  in  the  Eureka  Brass  Band. 
He  used  to  always  do  those  Eureka  Brass  Bands.   And  I  was 
in  the  library  researching--that ' s  one  of  the  things  I 
freak  out  on.   I'd  rather  do  research  than  the  art.   So  I 
was  in  there  researching  one  day,  and  I  saw  his  father's 
picture  in  an  old  book  of  New  Orleans  jazz  musicians.   And 


I  said,  "This  has  got  to  be  Pajaud's  dad,"  because  his 
name  was  spelled  the  same,  and  I  remembered  Pajaud  said 
his  father  played  trombone.   He  was  in  the  hall  of  fame 
in  this  book.   So  I  xeroxed  that  page,  and  I  want  to  send 
it  to  Pajaud.   So  I  got  his  address  yesterday. 

But  Pajaud  and  I  would  go  out.   I  got  to  the  place 
where  I  used  to  call  it--it's  a  word  that  starts  with  an 
"R. "   I  can't  even  think  of  it  now.   But  it  was  like 
going  out  and  finding  junk.   One  of  my  games  I  used  to 
love  to  play  was--  Over  on  the  east  side  there  were  still 
some  railroad  tracks,  and  some  of  these  railroad  tracks 
led  to  places  where  they  ground  up  cars,  smashed  them  up, 
ground  them  up  into  little  bits--little  twisted,  gnarled, 
rusty  bits  of  metal .   They  would  ship  them  in  these 
boxcars  over  to  Long  Beach.   They  had  this  big  conveyor- - 
because  I  followed  the  trail  one  day,  and  they  had  this 
big  conveyor.   All  the  metal  scrap  would  go  up  this 
conveyor  and  you'd  see  it  dropping  off,  making  noise  by 
falling  in  the  hull  of  this  ship.   This  was  like  in  the 
real  early  seventies,  late  sixties,  between  '65  and  '70. 
All  these  ships  had  Japanese  names:   the  Nara  Maru,  the 
Suzi  Moru.  the  Ekudu  Moru.   All  these  ground-up  car  parts 
were  going  to  Japan  to  come  back  as  Toyotas,  Datsuns,  all 
these  cars.   But  at  the  time,  the  Japanese  hadn't  come 
back.   See,  the  Japanese  just  made  compact  cars  originally. 


MASON :   Yeah . 

RIDDLE:   Little  gas  mileage  cars. 

MASON:   Yeah,  because  we  have  better  steel  than  they  do. 
RIDDLE:   Yeah.   And  they  ground  up  our  cars,  took  the 
ground-up  parts  to  Japan,  created  these  little  tinny, 
thirty-mile-a-gallon  cars,  when  we  were  getting  sixteen 
and  twelve,  called  them  compact  cars.   It  killed  us.   You 
could  drive  those  from  suburbia  to  Los  Angeles.   It  saves 
huge  amounts  on  your  gas  bills,  because  at  the  same  time 
our  cars  were  evolving  to  the  big  fins,  and  they  were 
getting  more  and  more  gaudy.   The  gaudier  they  were--  The 
big  headlights  and  ornaments.   And  here  the  Japanese  were 
making  these  little  compacts. 

I  did  a  piece  of  art  about  this.   This  is  a 
divergence.   But  I  remember  one  time  there  was  a  police 
station  that's  gone  now.   It  was  up  on  Pico  just  by 
Rimpau.   In  fact,  that's  the  street  I  almost  got  shot  on, 
was  Rimpau . 
MASON:   Oh,  yeah. 

RIDDLE:   It  was  right  next  to  a  Sears  store  up  there  on 
Pico.   It  sat  right  out  on  the  sidewalk.   It  was  a 
classic  police  station.   It  had  the  steps  going  up  and 
glass  balls  on  the  little  lampposts  and  you  could  look  in 
there  and  see  what  was  happening.   So  I  used  to  like  to 
go  sketch  in  front  of  the  police  station.   But  it  was  in 


the  days  of  the  Black  Panthers  and  all  that,  and  they 
thought  that  I  was  some  kind  of  revolutionary  drawing 
diagrams.   They  used  to  send  people  out  to  ask  me  what 
the  hell  I  was  doing  and  all  this.   And  I  used  to  like  it 
after  I  got  used  to  it.   Because  at  first,  they'd  always 
send  out  some  little  rookie,  and  you  could  tell  because 
his  hat  was  all  down  on  his  ears.   "What  are  you  doing, 
fella?"   You'd  tell  him  and  he'd  be  confused  and  he'd  go 
back  and  they  would  send  a  more  senior  person  out.   And 
you  could  always  get  them  to  talk  about  the  Jews .   I  was 
teaching  in  Beverly  Hills,  so  it  must  have  been  '70, 
about  then.   You  start  talking  about  the  Jews,  and  those 
old  racist  crackers  would  forget  what  you  were  there  for. 
They'd  start  talking  about  the  Jews,  too.   Then  you'd  let 
them  run  off  about  the  Jews  and  anti-Semitism  for  four  or 
five  minutes.   They'd  say,  "Well,  see  you  later,  buddy." 
And  they ' d  go  on  back  and  leave  you  alone . 
MASON:   You  were  a  friend  after- - 

RIDDLE:   Uh-huh.   That's  how  I  knew  how  to  get  rid  of 

So  anyway,  I  was  doing  two  kinds  of  sketches.   I 
just  wanted  to  sit  there  and  look  at  the  police 
department.   Now,  this  was  the  Vietnam  era,  too,  and  the 
police  they  were  recruiting  were  Vietnam  veterans.   They 
still  were  wearing  their  crew  cuts  and  they  had  the--  I 


remember  one  night  I'll  never  forget.   It  was  changing 
shifts  and  these  cops  came,  they  were  going  into  the 
police  station.   There  was  about  six  of  them,  and  they 
were  kind  of  playing  because  it  wasn't  their  routine. 
They  got  in  line  and  one  guy  said,  "Hut,  two--"  and  they 
went  marching  in  just  like  they  were  in  the  Marine  Corps. 
But  the  other  thing  I  saw  was  they  all  came  in  Datsuns 
and  Toyotas.   So  I  put  that  in  my  picture.   Because,  see, 
all  the  police  at  that  time--  Not  all,  because--  Just 
like  they  were  in  Simi  Valley,  you  know,  where  they  tried 
Rodney  King.   They  were  all  in  Redondo  Beach,  Hermosa 
Beach,  Huntington  Beach,  all  down  the  coast,  which  meant 
they  had  to  come  a  hell  of  a  long  way  to  get  to  this 
police  station  in  the  black  neighborhood  up  on  Pico,  to 
do  their  eight  hours  of  occupation  duty.   And  they  drove 
these  little  compact  cars,  because  they  had  a  sixty-, 
seventy-mile  round  trip.   See,  I  was  looking  at  all  that. 
That ' s  how  I  remember  when  the  Datsuns  and  the  Toyotas 
were  just  little  teeny  cars.   That's  how  I  see  that 
relationship  through  art.   That's  why,  to  me,  I  can  see  a 
lot  of  social  relationships,  which  goes  back  to  the 
beginning  of  this  long  discourse  on  Bobby  Seale  saying, 
"Art  ain't  shit. " 
MASON:   Okay.   You  know,  I  should  stop  you  here,  because 


the  tape  is  going  to  run  out  and  I  don't  want  you  to  get 
started  and  then  we  have  to  stop. 
RIDDLE:   Okay. 


SEPTEMBER  5,  1992 

MASON:   You  were  around  the  police  station  and  Bobby  Seale 

RIDDLE:   You  know,  I  was  right  at  a  place  where  I  met  my 
first  black  artist--who  I  consider  my  first  black  artist: 
Noah  Purifoy.   I  knew  Ruth  [G.]  Waddy.   I  was  out  of 
school  then,  but  I  was  at  a  crossroads  when  I  read  what 
Bobby  Seale  said.   I  didn't  really  want  to  do  social 
commentary  as  much  as  I  wanted  to  just  do  great  big 
abstract,  expressionistic  pieces  that  let  you  have  the 
freedom  to  splash  color  and  do  all  those  kinds  of  things. 
MASON:   Is  that  how  you  had  been  painting  in  school? 
RIDDLE:   No,  I  had  never  even  done  it.   I  had  never 
considered  it.   I  mean,  it  was  just--  It  was  like  I  still 
got  the  urge  for  it.   Maybe  I'll  never  do  it;  maybe  I'll 
never  get  the  courage  to  just  be  abstract,  because  it 
takes  a  different  courage  to  stand  on  a  reputation  of 
color  and  form  and  that  kind  of  expression  devoid  of 
classic  subject  matter.   You  can  get  a  reputation  off 
classic  subject  matter.   You  can  draw  like  Charles  [E.] 
White:   over  and  over  are  different  images,  but  it  still 
becomes  Charles  White's  style. 

So  anyway,  that's  another  thing.   It  was  right  before 


the  Watt  riots,  and  I  met  Ruth  Waddy. 

MASON:   How  did  you  meet  her? 

RIDDLE:   I  don't  remember.   It's  like  when  you  meet  people 

that  you  always  have  known  and  liked.   Sometimes  it's  real 

hard  to  remember  because  maybe  the  meeting  was  so 

inauspicious  that  you  just  don't  remember,  you  know.   But 

you  remember  some  of  the  things  that  came  after. 

I  remember  Ruth  didn't  live  too  far  from  me  up  ■ 
Western  [Avenue] .   I  lived  at  Western  and  Twenty- seventh 
[Street] ,  and  she  lived  just  above  Venice  [Boulevard]  on 
Western.   So  we  were  neighbors  of  sorts.   I  remember  one 
time  Ruth  called  one  Saturday.   It  was  a  cloudy  Saturday, 
kind  of  like  this,  except  it  was  a  little  more  threatening 
looking.   And  she  said,  "John,  I  want  you  to  meet 
somebody.   Could  you  come  by  and  pick  me  up?"   I  came  by 
and  picked  her  up.   She  took  me  over  to  Noah  Purifoy's 
house . 

He  lived  on  La  Brea  [Avenue] ,  somewhere  between  Adams 
[Boulevard]  and  Washington  [Boulevard] ,  or  Washington  and 
Venice.   Somewhere  right  in  that  part  of  it.   We  went  over 
there,  and  here  was  this  man  living  in  this  little  house 
in  the  back.   He  had  made  everything  in  the  house:   the 
couches,  the  rugs,  the  beds,  the  paneling,  the  door.   It 
was  the  most  artistic  thing.   Everything  had  the  stamp  of 
Noah  Purifoy:   collector  of  odds,  ends,  scraps,  discarded 


stuff  turned  into  really  elegant  things.   So  he  talked  and 

we  talked  and  we  got  to  be  friends.   It  was  probably  '64, 

because  when  the  riot  came  I  was  into  collecting  this 


MASON:   That  was  Noah  Purifoy's  influence,  then? 

RIDDLE:   Yeah.   Well,  I  mean,  he  was  an  assemblage  person. 

I  liked  assemblage,  too,  but  I  was  getting  ready  to  like 

it  more  than  I  had  ever  liked  it.   Because  when  the  riots 

came,  all  these  burned-out  buildings  were  there.   There 

were  charred  remains  and  this  and  that.   What  was  really 

weird  was  I  met  some  black  artists  poking  through  the 

ruins.   And  I  was  in  there  with  my  little  box,  poking 

through  the  ruins  just  like  they  did.   That  cash  register 

was  like--  I  found  a  burned-out  cash  register. 

MASON:   This  is  called  The  Ghetto  Merchant. 

RIDDLE:   The  idea  was  to  take  a  cash  register  and 

dismantle  it  with  screwdrivers  and  stuff  till  I  got  to  the 

part  where  the  part  I  liked  was  left.   And  I  just  put  some 

legs  on  it  and  called  it  The  Ghetto  Merchant. 

MASON:   Where  did  you  get  the--?  Is  all  of  this  part  of 

the  cash  register  that  you  dismantled?   Or--? 

RIDDLE:   No,  it's  junk.   Now,  see  those  others?   Like  that 

thing  up  at  the  top? 

MASON:   Uh-huh. 

RIDDLE:   I  was  telling  you  about  when  I  went  off  on  a 


divergence  about  the  Toyotas  and  the  Datsuns  and  the 
little  bent-up  metal--  I  used  to  love  to  walk  up  the 
railroad  tracks,  and  I  used  to  play  this  game.   I'd  take  a 
box--I  had  this  box  that  had  a  handle  on  it  so  I  could 
carry  it--and  I'd  walk  as  far  as  I  could  walk  up  the 
railroad  tracks,  picking  up  only  those  things  that  caught 
my  eye.   Because  you  saw  a  whole  myriad  of  things,  but  you 
got  to  the  point  where  your  eye  would  see  the  thing  you 
wanted  out  of  forty  things.   Because  you  do  it  every  day. 
You  don't  know  what  you're  going  to  use  it  for  in  art,  but 
you're  walking  and  you  pick  up  that.   You  could  only  walk 
as  far  as  you  knew  you  could  carry  that  box  back  when  it 
was  too  full  and  too  heavy  to  carry.   Now,  if  it  took  you 
longer  to  find  interesting  things,  you  walked  further. 
Just  grabbing  up  everything  you  saw,  you  couldn't  walk  as 
far  because  the  box  got  heavy,  and  then  you'd  have  to  walk 
back  to  your  car  and  throw  the  box  in  the  car.   So  every 
day  on  the  weekend  I  would  do  that,  you  know. 

I  used  to  go  down  alleys,  industrial  alleys,  anywhere 
where  I  thought  I  might  see  something.   Then  I  got  to  a 
place  where,  if  my  instincts  told  me  to  turn  here,  I'd  go. 
I'd  find  things  like  the  legs  on  that  Street  Trial.   I 
found  this  place  that  did  castings.   And  here,  that  man's 
legs  were  dripping  from  the  foundries.   I  guess  they 
dumped  the  drippings,  and  somebody  picked  them  up. 


I  used  to  love  to  go  to  places  that  did  fabricating. 
They  had  these  big  metal  things  [and]  the  trash  truck 
would  come  and  pick  up  the  whole  thing.   I  don't  know  if 
you've  ever  seen  one.   They  have  these  long  things-- 
They're  made  so  that  a  truck  can  come  and  scoop  them  up, 
and  it  turns  into  part  of  the  truck.   They  just  haul  the 
whole  thing  away.   But  people  who  do  metal  fabricating, 
they  throw  [out]  all  of  their  punch  parts,  bent  parts, 
things  like  this  thing.   They  throw  out  things  like  that 
that  they've  actually  fabricated  something  out  of.   But  I 
like  them  because  the  cut  outs  were  clean,  made  by  great 
big  break  machines  where  it  would  just  punch  a  hole  right 
through  a  piece  of  metal  a  quarter  inch  thick.   So  you  get 
a  nice  clean  hole  rather  than  if  you  had  to  try  to  cut  it 
out  yourself  with  a  torch.   It  would  be  ragged,  and  you'd 
have  to  file  it.   So  you  got  minimalism  with  minimal 
effort.   So  I  liked  them  for  that. 
MASON:   Where  did  the  legs  come  from? 

RIDDLE:   Oh,  with  some  other  junk  I  have.   I  used  to  have 
a  junk  pile  in  my  backyard.   In  fact,  when  I  left  L.A.,  it 
took  my  pickup  truck  about  five,  six  trips  to  the  junkyard 
to  resell  this  metal.   And  I  was  getting  like  eighty, 
ninety  dollars  a  trip. 
^4AS0N :   Wow ! 
RIDDLE:   So  I ' d  take  my  truck--  They'd  always  weigh  your 


truck  with  the  junk  on  it.   You  unload  the  junk,  then  you 

put  your  truck  back  on  the  scale.   They  weigh  it  again, 

and  they  owe  you  the  difference. 

MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   So  I  was  like  making  these  trips  and  my  truck  was 

barely  touching  the  ground  in  the  front,  it  was  so  loaded 

down.   But  I  had  like  these  piles  of  resource  material 

that--  Sometimes  I  would  remember  right  away,  "I've  got 

some  things  that  would  go  perfect  here, "  and  I  could  pull 

them  right  out.   And  I  had  some  stuff  that  if  I  just  went 

through  the  junk  I'd  find,  "Ooh,  this  is  nice."   You  know, 


MASON:   So  if  you  left  it  outside  it  must  have  gotten 

rained  on,  as  much  as  it  rains  in  L.A. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah. 

MASON:   And  probably  the  texture  changed  sometimes. 

RIDDLE:   Well,  I  used  to-- 

MASON:   Because  I  noticed  these  are  all  polished  up. 

RIDDLE:   I  used  to  try  to  shine  the  things  up. 

MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   That  was  part  of  it,  too.   But  I  tried  to  get  rid 

of  the  rust.   And  then  I  would  put  polyurethane  or 

something  on.   Wirebrush  the  stuff.   I  even  got  to  the 

place  where  I  found  a  guy  who  sandblasted,  and  I  had  him 

sandblast  some  things. 


MASON:   So  that  was  an  important  part  of  the  whole 
aesthetic  of  the  piece?   The  shine  and  the--? 
RIDDLE:   Yeah.   And  the  natural  patina  of  the  metal.   So 
you've  got  a  contrast  between  highly  polished--  Because  at 
the  same  time  I  was  starting  to  see--  I  saw  David  Smith, 
the  minimalist  sculptor.   I  didn't  like  his  work,  and  then 
I  saw  a  piece  in  front  of  a  museum  one  night.   It  was  in 
1972,  it  was  an  art  and  technology  show,  and  they  had  a 
David  Smith  out  front.   I  was  just  going  into  the  museum, 
and  I  saw  the  way  he  burnished  those  surfaces  with  his 
grinder.   It  was  like  it  was  five,  six  surfaces.   And  I'd 
always  tried  to  get  that  effect  of  multi-levels  of 
transparency  as  a  painter,  and  here  this  guy  was  doing  it 
on  the  surface  of  this  metal.   So  I  just  freaked  out. 
Then  I  started  really  looking  at  his  stuff  more  closely. 
Then  I  started  seeing  the  fact  that  one  of  the  things 
about  minimalism  was  that  you  could  create  the  illusion  of 
mass  with  his  forms.   They  looked  heavy  and  strong,  but 
yet  they  were  hollow.   You  had  the  illusion  of  mass 
without  the  weight  of  mass.   So  I  started  liking  that  kind 
of  idea,  too.   He  was  a  major  influence  on  me.   I  mean, 
he's  somebody  I  still  like.   But--  I  don't  know  where  I  am 
anymore . 

MASON:   I  guess  the  other  guestion  I  had  was,  did  they 
teach  welded  sculpture  at  school?   Or  was  that  something 


that  you  had  learned--? 

RIDDLE:   Not  to  me.   No,  because  like,  see,  I  went  to 

night  school.   They  never  had  sculpture  classes  at  night. 

When  I  went  back  for  my  master's,  I  would  have  gotten  a 

degree  in  sculpture,  except  they  didn't  teach  it  except  in 

the  daytime.   So  I've  never  had  a  class  in  sculpture. 

MASON:   It  was  just  interesting.   I  was  reading  about-- 

When  you  read  things  about  Mel[vin  E.]  Edwards  and  Ed 

Love,  you  know,  they  always  say  that  they  were  attracted 

to  welded  sculpture.   And  I  think  Ed  Love  said  something 

about  seeing  a  piece  of  P'lla  Mills  in  the  Golden  State 

[Mutual  Life  Insurance  Company]  collection. 

RIDDLE:   The  same  thing  I  saw. 

MASON:   Huh? 

RIDDLE:   Same  one.   You've  got  a  picture  here.   I  know 

it's  the  same  one.   It's  the  same  one  as-- 

MASON:   Oh,  yeah.   The  Star  of  Bethlehem.   This  was  a  page 

that  talks  about  the-- 

RIDDLE:   That  was  the  P'lla  Mills  in  the--  That  was  it, 


MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   We  used  to  love  that.   That  was  when  I  started 

liking  sculpture,  was  in  those  days.   This  is  the  kind  of 

metal  that  I  used  to  go  get  with  [William  E.]  Pajaud. 

MASON:   This  is  Control  Force. 


RIDDLE:   I  remember  the  day  I  found  that.   There  was  a 

great  big  gear  ring  in  the  junkyard,  and  I  was  with  Pajaud 

that  day.   I  used  to  like  things  like  alarm  bells  and-- 

That  was  some  kind  of  bird.   I  don't  know  what  kind  of 

bird  that  was,  but  it  definitely  is  a  bird  with  wings. 

And  what  is  it  called? 

MASON:   It's  called  Control  Force.   There's  no  date  on 


RIDDLE:   No,  I  would  have  never  called  it  that.   I  don't 

know  where  that  came  from. 

MASON:   Oh,  okay.   Well,  this  is  from  the  International 

Review  fof  African  American  Art] . 

RIDDLE:   People  put  titles  on  your  stuff. 

MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   If  I  did  that,  it  was  probably  "Bird  of  Prey"  or 

something,  because  I  think  that  was  an  eagle,  and  it  was 

like  a  bird  of  prey.   But  he  had  some  kind  of  owl  kind  of 

bird,  because  they're  birds  of  prey.   But  it  was  an 

Oalarmist  kind  of  thing.   Yeah,  like  how  they  always  catch 

those--  Like  they  always  have  those  birds  of  prey  with 

snakes  and  things  and  lizards  that  they've  caught  when 

they  fly  back  up  on  their  perch.   So  I  was  probably 

dealing  with  that,  because  I  see  on  there  the  fact  that  I 

used  alarm  bells. 

I  used  to  love  to  find  electric  boxes,  you  know,  that 


had  fuses  and  things  that  were--  So  that  you  could  see 
that  it  was  some  kind  of  an  electronically  related  thing. 
Schematic  designs  and  things  like  that,  because  they 
always  reminded  me  of  technology. 

MASON:   How  was  technology  important?   Because  I  noticed 
most  of  the--  When  you're  talking  about  a  lot  of  the  junk 
for--  You  know,  getting  junk  out  of  intersections,  you 
talked  a  lot  about  finding  car  parts  and  things  like  that. 
You  know,  why  were  car  parts  more  attractive--?  Well,  you 
talked  about  that  whole  Japan  thing. 

RIDDLE:   Well,  because  they  were  really  good  suppliers.   I 
mean,  all  the  junk  in  the  intersection  is  car  related. 
Because  the  cars  had  wrecks,  the  car  tires  swept  the  junk 
into  the  middle.   You  know,  that  was  just  how  it 
accumulated,  by  cars  going  this  way  and  this  way  and  this 
way  and  this  way.   [tape  recorder  off] 
MASON:   I  was  just  asking  about  your  interest  in  car 
parts,  your  attraction  to  car  parts  and  technology. 
RIDDLE:   Yeah,  I  was  just  saying  that  in  the 
intersections,  they  were  like  the  producers  of  the  debris. 
But  my  real  interest  was  in  junkyards  and  scrap  piles, 
because  I  was  interested  in  welding.   Now,  Noah,  his  real 
interest  was  in--just  to  use  him  as  an  example--  He  did 
his  gathering  from  secondhand  stores.   Now,  he  would  go 
into  a  secondhand  store--I  used  to  go  with  him  sometimes-- 


he  would  go  in  there  and  he'd  say,  "How  much  for  this  pair 
of  shoes?"   And  they'd  say,  "Those  are  two  dollars,  sir." 
And  he'd  say,  "What  if  I  buy  all  fifty  pairs?"   And  she'd 
say,  "I'll  sell  that  to  you  for  twenty-five  dollars." 
He'd  give  her  twenty- five  dollars,  pull  out  two  big 
gunnysacks,  throw  all  the  shoes  in  the  gunnysack,  take 
them  home  and  do  a  piece  about  shoes.   He'd  have  all  these 
shoes  lined  up,  [and]  that  would  be  his  piece  of  art.   The 
same  way  that  Wayne  Thiebaud  would  paint  slices  of  pie  in 
the  bakery  shop  showcase.   So  now  that's  where  he  got  his, 
but  I  loved  the  metal  yard. 

I  like  the  secondhand,  like  the  flea  market  in 
Pasadena.   You  go  out  there,  and  these  people  are  trying 
to  sell  memorabilia  and  things.   But  there's  so  much  art 
stuff  out  there.   If  you  go  out  there  just  thinking  you're 
going  to  make  some  art,  and  you're  not  trying  to  get  some 
collectibles,  but  something  that  strikes  you--  And  it's 
that  same  energy  that ' s  in  the  walking  down  the  railroad 
tracks,  playing  "I'm  only  going  to  pick  up  that  which 
catches  my  eye."   And  anything  that  doesn't  really  catch 
my  eye,  I'm  not  even  going  to  give  it  a  second  thought. 
You  get  that  same  mentality,  and  you  get  accustomed. 
Because  the  human  mind,  once  it  adapts  to  a  certain 
procedure,  it  can  become--  The  more  it  does  it,  the  more 
sophisticated  and  the  more  it  separates  itself  from  other 


human  beings  who  don't  do  that.   And  then  they  say,  "Well, 
that's  easy."   It  may  be  easy  what  they  see,  and  it  may  be 
easy  the  way  they  see  you  do  it.   But  they  may  not  know 
that  you  put  ten  years  of  practice  and  development  into 
cultivating  the  ability  to  do  this  thing.   Which  isn't 
speaking  about  me:   that's  about  anything  that  you  do 
repetitiously  and  long  enough.   You  become  proficient  at 

So  like  my  favorite  was  to  just  do--  Like  David 
Hammons  and  another  friend  of  mine,  we  developed  this 
theory  that  if  you  see  something  you  want  out  by  the  curb 
for  the  trashman,  if  you  stop  and  you  get  it,  then  it's 
yours.   But  if  you  drive  off  and  you  say,  "Gosh,  I  should 
have  gotten  that.   Dog,  I  should  have  gotten  that!"  and 
you  go  back,  it's  never  there.   It's  never  there.   The 
only  time  it  can  still  be  there  is  if  you  get  down  to  the 
corner  and  turn  around  and  go  right  back.   But  if  you  go 
on  about  where  you  were  going  when  you  saw  it  and  then 
come  back  later,  forget  it.   I  mean  I've  got  a  whole 
collection  of  mental  imagery  of  things  that  I  should  have 
gotten  that  I  didn't.   Michael  Jackson  one  time.   A  life- 
size  Michael  Jackson  sticking  out  of  somebody's  trash  with 
the  glove  and  one  of  those  Michael  Jackson  poses  and  his 
Geri-curled  hair  and  all  that.   And  I  said,  "Oh,  man."   I 
drove  on  down  the  street.   And  all  the  way  driving  down  I 


said,  "Dog,  I  could  make  a  bad  piece  of  art  out  of  that. 

I  don't  know  what  piece  it  is  yet,  but  I  know  I  could  use 

it."   By  the  time  I  went  back  and  got  it,  all  that  trash 

was  still  there,  but  Michael  Jackson  was  gone.   Somebody 

else  said,  "Ooh,  Michael  Jackson, "  and  put  it  in  their 

record  room . 

MASON:   So  when  you  see--? 

RIDDLE:   Anything  that  really  catches  your  eye. 

MASON:   So  you  don't  know  what  piece  you're  going  to  make. 

Or  is  the  piece  suggested  by  the  thing  that  you  find?   Or 

how  does  that  process  work? 

RIDDLE:   Oh,  yeah.   I  mean,  a  lot  of  times  it's  like--  My 

titles  always  precede  my  art.   I  always  have  a  name  of  a 

piece  before  the  piece  ever  comes .   I  may  change  the  name 

of  the  piece  after  I  get  into  it  and  make  it  a  little  more 

explanatory,  but  I  always  have  a-- 

I  remember  one  time  I  found  a  box,  and  next  to  it 
there  was  an  old  wooden  door  that  somebody  put  out.   It 
said  "employees  only"  on  it.   You  know,  they  always  have 
that.   Somebody  had  stenciled  it  on  there.   And  I  saved 
that  part  that  said  "employees  only."   I  had  that  thing  in 
my  basement  here  in  this  house  for  a  long  time.   And  then 
one  day  I  was  thinking  about  the  United  States  and  Central 
and  Latin  America  and  South  America,  too,  because  I 
thought  about  Salvador  Allende  and  [Augusto]  Pinochet  in 


Chile  and  how  [Henry]  Kissinger,  [Richard  M. ]  Nixon,  etc., 
all  got  rid  of  Salvador  Allende  in  '72  because  Chile  was 
the  leading  producer  of  copper.   This  was  before  fiber 
optics  and  the  microchips  were  really  booming  and 
everything.   They  were  still  using  copper  wire.   And  AT&T 
[American  Telephone  and  Telegraph  Company]  and  ITT 
[International  Telephone  and  Telegraph  Corporation],  if 
you  think  about  them,  they  were  all  copper  wire.   I  mean, 
that's  what  their  foundation  was,  copper  wire.   They 
didn't  want  what  they  considered  to  be  a  Marxist--even 
though  he  was  elected  in  a  democratic  election--to  be  in 
charge  of  copper  any  more  than  they  wanted  Saddam  Hussein 
to  be  in  charge  of  the  oil.   Even  though  the  British 
partition--  Iraq  had  made  Kuwait  at  the  turn  of  the 
century  so  that  they  could  steal  that  oil  out  of  there 
which  wasn't  theirs  in  the  first  place.   But  it's  always 
the  same  thing . 

So  they  got  rid  of  Allende.   And  then  I  started 
thinking  about  [how]  they  got  rid  of  Omar  Torrijos  in 
Panama.   [James  E.]  Carter  had  just  gotten  with  Torrijos 
and  made  a  contract  to  cede  the  Panama  Canal  back  to  the 
Panamanian  people,  and  all  these  Reagan  kind  of  people 
going  out  of  their  damn  minds,  and  right  after  that,  now, 
Torrijos  was  in  a  helicopter  crash.   All  of  a  sudden,  who 
took  his  place?   Manuel  Noriega,  you  know,  who  we  loved 


right  up  until  the  time  that  we  needed  a  scapegoat.   So 
then  we  dumped  him  off  because  he  wouldn't  help  us  with 
the  Contra  training  so  that  we  could  get  rid  of  Daniel 
Ortega.   So  I  saw  all  of  this  piece  as  evolving  out  of 
this  "employees  only."   Who  did  they  kill?   They  killed 
Maurice  Bishop,  they  killed  Torrijos,  and  they  killed 
Allende,  even  though  they  had  surrogates  to  do  it.   Still, 
they  got  rid  of  him.   Then  the  only  three  that  were  still 
bothering  them,  really,  that  they  didn't  get  to 
kill--although  they  intended  to  kill  Noriega,  it  just 
happened  that  they  didn't  get  him- -Noriega,  [Fidel] 
Castro,  and  Ortega. 

I  loved  to  look  through  American  Rifle  Association  and 
hunting  magazines,  because  they  always  show  "Get  this 
bullet!"   And  they  show  these  bullets  that  can  kill  with 
the  greatest  killing  power  that  you  can  get  on  a  rifle. 
They  show  these  mushroom  bullet  heads  that  are  all 
flattened  out  and  say,  "Compare  this  with  this.   This  is 
what  you  want."   I  always  cut  those  pictures  out.   And  so  I 
collaged  bullets  that  are  spent  and  used  in  these  ads.   And 
I  put  one  next  to  Allende,  Bishop,  and  Omar  Torrijos.   But, 
yet,  I  have  nice  clean  unused  bullets  next  to  Noriega, 
Castro,  and  Ortega,  because  they  haven't  knocked  them  off 
yet.   I  like  to  make  those  kinds  of  plays  on  things. 

But  when  I  got  that  door  that  said  "employees  only, " 


I  had  no  idea  that  the  employees  would  be  Pinochet--  I  had 
this  really  nice  picture  of  Pinochet  and  the  generals  all 
standing  at  attention.   I  collaged  that  in  a  very 
painterly  way  over  the  part  of  the  door  that  says 
"employees  only. "   And  then  I  show,  on  the  outside  edge,  a 
separation  of  about  six  inches  of  the  non-employees  to  be 
assassinated,  because  they  don't  fit  in  with  what  we  want 
South  America,  Central  America  to  be. 

MASON:   That's  in  the  William  Grant  Still  [Community  Arts 
Cemter]  show  that's  up  now. 
RIDDLE:   Yeah.   That's-- 

MASON:   What  date  was  that?   That  was  in  '70  something. 
RIDDLE:   My  piece  has  evolved.   I  mean,  I've  been  working 
on  it  ever  since  I  thought  of  it.   It  probably  took  me 
about  two  years,  but  I  didn't  paint  on  it  every  day.   I 
might  see  an  article  in  the  newspaper  or  something  and 
say,  "Ooh,  this  fits."   And  then  I'd  go  back  and  work  on 
it.   But  I  like  to  let  them  evolve  because--  I  mean,  the 
reason  is  I  had  no  idea  that  that  would  become  what  it 

MASON:   Well,  I  was  thinking  that  since  you've  done  so 
many  things,  even  though  it's  really  artificial  to  divide 
everything  up,  maybe  we  could  just  talk  about--  Since 
we're  talking  about  sculpture,  maybe  we  could  just  talk 
about  sculpture  and  then  assemblage  and  then  ceramics  and 


then  painting,  even  though  it's  kind  of  all  mixed  up 


RIDDLE:   Well,  I  don't  mind.   It  would  probably  help  you. 

MASON:   Yeah,  it  would  help  me.   [laughter]   That's  what 

I'm  saying,  it  would  actually  help  me. 

RIDDLE:   You  set  it  up  like  you  want  it.   I  don't  have  any 

problem  with  that. 

MASON:   Okay.   Because  otherwise  I'll  just  forget  or-- 

Because  we  were  talking  about  assemblage.   We  haven't 

talked  about  your  Made  in  Mississippi  series  and  how  that 

came  about  yet.   I  wanted  to  ask  you-- 

RIDDLE:   That  was  a  funny  thing. 

MASON:   What  was  one  of  the  first  pieces  of  assemblage 

that  you  saw?   Was  it  the  Watts  Towers?   Or  was  it 

another--?  I  guess  I'm  wondering  what  gave  you  the 


RIDDLE:   I  was  still  painting  when  I  saw  Watts  Towers. 

MASON:   So  I  was  just  wondering,  what  was  the  impetus  for 

feeling  that  junk  could  be  art? 

RIDDLE:   Well,  back  to--  Like  I  said,  I  saw  how  Noah  did 

it,  and  then  I  saw--  I  was  attracted  to  it  because,  again, 

it  came  out  of  that  prior  ceramic  experience  of  the 

manipulation  of  real  things  rather  than  trying  to  draw  the 

real  thing.   Because  I  know  in  drawing,  if  it's  not  quite 

right,  you've  got  to  erase  it.   But  if  it's  not  quite 


right  in  metal,  say  it's  stiff  metal,  you  can  heat  it  and 
bend  it  until  it's  right.   The  Tightness  of  it  comes  from 
as  you  bend  it;  you  see  maybe  it  crosses  over  another  form 
that's  either  in  front  of  it  or  behind  it.   And  all  of  a 
sudden  you  see  a  nice  connection  between  the  two.   So  that 
in  the--we're  talking  about  assemblage  now--additive  form 
of  sculpture  rather  than  the--  Well,  it  could  be 
subtractive,  too.   But  a  good  example  was  I  did  a  piece  of 
Malcolm  X. 

It  was  supposed  to  be  a  man  who  had  been  down.   So  I 
let  myself  lay  on  the  floor  and  I  studied  the  way  that  you 
would  normally  get  up  if  you  were  flat  on  your  back,  but 
now  you're  coming  up.   You  would  have  one  elbow  up, 
pushing  yourself  up;  your  legs  would  be  a  certain  way.   So 
once  I  got  that,  I  made  a  wax  model  of  Malcolm.   I  was 
almost  through  with  it,  and  I  went  to  the  flea  market.   My 
son  [Anthony  Thomas  Riddle]  was  going  to  look  for  comics 
and  I  was  looking  around.   He  was  looking  for  comics;  I'm 
looking  for  what  I  want  to  look  for.   And  I  saw  a 
blowtorch,  an  old-fashioned  painter's  blowtorch  that  they 
used  to  use  to  heat  up  paint.   That  was  before  they  had 
chemical  paint  remover.   They  would  heat  paint  with  this 
blowtorch,  and  then  they  would  take  a  putty  knife  when  the 
paint  started  blistering,  but  before  it  could  catch  on 
fire,  and  they  would  scrape  it  off.   That  was  one  of  the 


ways--  They  probably  still  do  multilayer,  but  now  they've 
got  chemicals  [where]  it  would  come  right  off  easier. 

It's  a  piece  of  art  itself,  the  blowtorch.   But  I 
noticed  when  I  put  it  under  Malcolm--  See,  Malcolm's  hand 
had  been--  I  didn't  want  to  do  a  real  hand  with  fingers. 
So,  I  mean,  I  made  it  like  a  hand--  I  made  this  part  of 
the  hand,  actually.   I  had  Malcolm's  hand  coming  up,  and 
it  was  turned  this  way.   And  I  noticed,  one  day,  I  had 
this  blowtorch  and  I  just  stuck  it  up  under  there  to  say, 
"Suppose  Malcolm  was  coming  up  off  the  ground  with  a 
blowtorch  in  his  hand.   That  would  make  an  extra  serious 
piece.   I  mean,  Malcolm's  been  down,  but  know  he's  coming 
up  to  put  some  heat."   So  I  really  liked  that  idea.   But, 
now,  the  unexpected  came  when  I  got  behind  the  hand  and 
the  knob  on  the  blowtorch  is  like--it's  got  little  notches 
in  it  all  the  way  around  so  the  guy  could  turn  up  the  fuel 
and  increase  the  flame.   But  it's  just  like  in  the  Adinkra 
symbol  book  that  shows  a  symbol  that  has  eight  notches  in 
it,  and  it's  the  star  which  is  the  son  of  God.   You  know? 
So  I  saw  that.   But  also,  with  his  hand  going  like  that, 
it's  like  the  star  and  crescent.   And  all  of  a  sudden,  I 
saw  all  of  these  Muslim  connotations  just  because,  now, 
there's  a  blowtorch  in  Malcolm's  hand,  where  that  was 
never  the  intention  when  I  made  Malcolm's  hand. 

So  I  see  a  lot  of  times  in  the  development  of  a 


piece,  if  you  let  the  piece  develop  for  a  while,  and  then 
when  you  don't  see  [anything]  [John]  Coltrane  like  about 
it--  Or  you  don't  see  spontaneity,  where  you're  contriving 
parts  instead  of  the  parts  just  spontaneously--  Like  when 
Coltrane  and  them  would  be  playing  some  jazz,  you  know. 
All  of  this  skill  is  there,  but  the  show,  like  an  art 
show,  is  when  they're  playing  extemporaneously,  and  an 
accumulation  of  all  their  skill,  all  their  ideas,  their 
playing  right  at  the  ultimate  minute  of  how  they're 
thinking--  If  it  wasn't  for  a  recording,  a  lot  of  times 
they  might  not  be  able  to  replay  that.   They  might  be  able 
to  transcribe  it  and  replay  it  here.   But  if  they  don't 
have  that,  the  only  evolution  on  the  piece  is  coming  out 
as  they  play  the  changes  and  the  things  that  they  achieve. 
They  say,  "Yeah,  I've  been  trying  to  get  to  that." 

The  same  thing  happens  in  sculpture.   I  mean,  it 
happens  in  painting,  too.   But  that's  why  I  liked--  In 
sculpture,  you're  dealing  with  real  objects,  and  you  have 
the  ability,  in  this  case,  to  mix  recognizable,  discarded 
junk  with  lines  and  images  that  you've  created.   So  that 
pretty  soon  this  three-dimensional  collage  of  parts  or 
assemblage  becomes  like  [Louise]  Nevelson's  pieces:   if 
you  take  it  out  of  context,  it's  a  whole  bunch  of 
banisters  and  wood  turnings  and  different  cut  outs  and 
things.   But  if  you  take  it  all  and  put  it  all  in  a  form 


and  paint  it  all  one  color,  then  it  become  one  thing  with 
a  whole  bunch  of  very  interesting  subparts  contained 
within  the  boundary  of  this  one  thing.   So  I  like 
sculpture  from  that  standpoint.   And  I  love  things  in  the 
streets  still  that  get  run  over  and  smashed,  because 
they've  acquired  their  shape  as  art  parts  accidentally. 
Nobody  sat  there  with  a  hammer. 

There  was  a  piece  in  the  Grant  Still  show  that  I 
still--  This  is  a  still  assemblage.   I  wanted  to  tear  open 
some  bags,  because  I  found  all  of  these  wonderful  bags 
with  Statues  of  Liberty  printed  on  them.   I  wanted  to  tear 
one  open  to  show  Nixon  had  been  busted.   But  [when]  I 
tried  to  tear  a  bag,  I  was  caught  up  in  this  "How  do  you 
tear  it?"  because  it's  a  conceived  thing,  the  pressure. 
And  I  didn't  want  that.   So  one  day  I  took  it  to  work  and 
I  got  a  plastic  bag,  filled  it  up  with  water,  put  the 
plastic  bag  inside  the  paper  bag,  went  up  on  the  upper 
level  above  where  we  parked  this  morning,  and  threw  it  off 
the  upper  level.   And  it  hit  the  ground.   The  bag  tore  and 
splattered  in  every  which  direction.   And  I  ran 
downstairs,  and  it  was  the  most  amazing  thing.   The  part 
of  the  bag  that  had  the  Statue  of  Liberty  didn't  get  one 
tear  on  it.   The  rest  of  the  bag  just  was  torn  to  shreds. 
And  I  took  it  like  I  used  to  see  my  mother  do  with  Ivory 
Snow.   I  used  to  have  Ivory  flakes  or  something  you  used 


to  put  on  fine  sweaters,  like  wool  sweaters  and  stuff, 
because  you  had  to  wash  them  by  hand.   Then  you  would  put 
newspaper  out  and  you'd  block  the  sweaters  out.   You  laid 
them  out  so  that  they  were  just  like  they  were.   And  then, 
that  way,  when  they  dry,  they  wouldn't  be  all  distorted. 
MASON:   Yeah,  they  would  keep  their  shape. 
RIDDLE:   Yeah.   So  I  did  that  paper  bag  the  same  way.   I 
ran  home  from  work  with  the  paper  bag.   It  was  still  wet. 
I  went  down  to  the  basement  and  laid  it  out,  made  sure  it 
was  just  like  it  tore.   And  then  I  was  able  to  create  the 
piece  Nixon:  the  20th  Anniversary,  Busted.   Because  he  got 
busted  just  like  that  paper  bag,  just  like  brothers  get 
busted.   But,  I  mean,  it  was  like  that  accidental  thing. 
I  like  that  in  sculpture. 

The  sculpture  and  assemblage  parts  that  are  in  my 
head  now,  I  would  like  to  create  certain  parts  out  of  wax 
and  cast  them.   My  plan  is  to  cast  them  in  my  backyard, 
somewhere  along  the  creek  so  that  I  have  some  nice 
setting,  and  I'll  be  out  there.   You  know.   But  the  idea 
of  making  parts  or  casting  real  things,  which  is  easy  to 
do  in  casting--  But  being  able  to  create  the  exact  parts 
you  want  and  mix  them  with  things  that  you  find  and  weld 
them  together  to  create  the  object  that  you're  trying  to 
express  yourself  with--  See,  I  mean,  to  me,  that's  like 
the  ultimate:   to  be  able  to  deliberately  create 


something,  but  combine  it  with  something  that  you  had  no 
hand  in  developing  its  shape.   You  only  have  a  hand  in 
making  it  part  of  this  other  thing,  to  become  a  whole 
something . 

That's  why  I  like  sculpture,  though;  it's  because — 
The  other  thing  I  think  about  sculpture  is  that  the  first 
time  that  you  make  something  that  you  can  stand  on,  that 
you  can  actually  make  something  and  then  stand  on  it, 
that's  amazing,  because  it  changes  your  whole  view. 
Because  if  you're  five  feet  tall,  everything  you  see  is 
basically  from  the  five-foot  level.   But  if  you  make 
something  that  makes  you  five  foot  seven,  you  actually 
have  a  different  perspective  on  everything,  because  you're 
seeing  it  from  a  different  viewpoint.   I  used  to  always 
think  [about]  that,  plus  something  that  could  fall  on  you 
and  break  your  arm  or  kill  you- -that  you  made. 
MASON:   Like  the  Richard  Serra  Tilted  Arc  kind  of  thing. 
RIDDLE:   Yeah.   Well,  I  mean,  definitely  if  one  of  his 
pieces  fell  on  you,  you'd  die.   Or  you'd  be  hurt  when  one 
of  those  big  old  poles  flying  over  hit  you. 
^4AS0N:   Why  was  that  danger  an  important  element  in  your 
work?   Or  potential  for  danger? 

RIDDLE:   Not  so  much  that,  but  the  fact  that  you  made 
something  that  now  you  have  to  wear  a  hard  hat  to  be 
around.   I  thought  that  was  nice.   I  mean,  just  that  idea 


that  something  that  you  made  was  big  enough  to  kill  you. 
You  know,  it's  just  like  when  Christo  did  those  pieces, 
and  the  umbrella  flew  off.   And  I  mean,  it's  sad  the 
woman  got  killed,  but--you  know--it's  the  size  of  the 
umbrellas  and  the  ability  of  those  umbrellas  to  pick  up 
currents  of  wind.   Obviously,  he  probably  didn't 
anticipate  that  one  would  ever  kill  anybody.   But  just 
that  idea  that  the  pieces  assume  a  kind  of  life  of  their 
own  physically,  aside  from  what  they  look  like.   But 
that's  what  sculpture  has  that  painting  doesn't  have, 
because  painting  is  all--  Painting  is  more  like  an 
illusion.   You  can  create  depth,  you  can  create  photo- 
realism, you  can  create  excitement  with  color,  but  it's 
much  more  of  an  abstract  thing.   And  it's  all  what  you 
can  do  through  your  hand,  through  this  inanimate  object, 
the  brush,  back  to  the  bristles  which  you  are  actually 
putting  paint  on.   Sculpture  is  just  you  get  more  dirty, 
it's  more  physical  work,  and  that's  nice  to  be--the 
physical  thing.   You're  wrestling  with  things.   You've 
got  to  see  "Can  I  make  something  big  enough  to--?  I've 
got  to  get  a  chain  hoist  in  my  studio  so  I  can  go-- 
Because  it's  too  heavy  to  hold  in  place." 

I  remember  one  thing  about  sculpture,  too,  that-- 
this  is  in  the  era  of  table  model  sculpture,  which  could 
hardly  fall  on  you  or  anything--you  needed  three  hands. 


You  needed  a  hand  to  hold  the  torch,  a  hand  to  hold  the 
rod,  and  a  hand  to  hold  the  object  that  was  being  welded. 
I  hated  clamp-on  tools;  they  were  like  illegal.   So  I 
discovered  balance  for  myself.   I  mean,  I  went  through  a 
year  where  I  used  to  think,  "If  the  piece  I  want  to  attach 
can  stay  right  where  I  want  it,  because  it's  balanced--"  A 
little  part  is  over  here,  and  a  little  more  is  over  here. 
If  it  can  stay--  Sometimes  I'd  spend  a  half  hour,  and  just 
when  I  got  ready  to  weld,  a  piece  would  fall  off.   If  I 
could  let  it  stay  in  place  long  enough  for  me  to  weld, 
then  I  felt  like,  physically,  because  of  balance,  that's 
where  the  piece  went.   So  that  became  like  a  law  for  a 
long  time,  that  I  would  practice  that. 

MASON:   Well,  in  the  earlier--  This  one  doesn't  have  a 
pedestal.  Street  Trial.   But  others  do  have  a  pedestal  for 
some--  Was  that  a  decision:   pedestal  or  not  pedestal? 
RIDDLE:   Only  in  that  it  was  easier  to  make  things  stand 

MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   Whereas,  like,  I  could  see  now,  where  the  three 
points  on  the  plane  would  be--  [tape  recorder  off] 

I'd  like  to  get  to  the  place  where  I  did 
architectural  sculpture.   I  gave  up  printmaking  because 
it's  not  healthy.   Because  you  use  too  much  petroleum 
salts,  so  I  didn't  want  to--  Now,  that  kind  of  way  isn't 


dangerous  as  much  as  it  could  be  foolhardy.   If  you  know 
the  chemicals  are  carcinogenic  or  that  they  can  be  liver 
damaging  and  different  things,  you  know,  nerve  damaging- - 
I  mean,  it  says  that  on  all  the  warning  labels.   Why  keep 
doing  it?   So  I  mean,  if  I  die,  I  don't  want  to  die 
because  the  chemicals  killed  me.   If  I  had  to  go  art-wise, 
I'd  definitely  want  it  to  be  an  accident.   "Yeah,  he  died 
while  he  was  doing  his  art."   You  know,  I'd  rather  have 
that  than,  "Yeah,  he  knew  he  was  going  to  die,  but  he  kept 
doing  it  anyway."   That  seems  somewhat  stupid.   But 
anyway,  I  switched  to  painting. 
MASON:   Well,  I  wanted  to-- 
RIDDLE:   I'm  sorry. 

MASON:   Before  we  talk  about  that,  I  wanted  to  talk  about 
how  the  Made  in  Mississippi  came  about. 
RIDDLE:   Yeah.   That's  what  I'm  trying  to  get  to  now. 
MASON:   Oh,  okay. 

RIDDLE:   But  that's  cool.   That  was  the  reason  I  said  I 
switched  to  painting.   But,  as  I'm  painting  right  now,  I'm 
beginning  to  put  physical  forms  in  the  painting.   Like  I'm 
actually  beginning  to  attach  things,  because  that's  a 
prelude  to  sculpture,  which  those  boxes  were.   I  had  said 
earlier  I  wanted  to  get  a  sculptural  degree,  but  I  couldn't 
get  one.   And  so  the  man  at  Cal[ifornia]  State  [University, 
Los  Angeles]  said  he  gave  me  the  option  in  graduate  school 


to--  As  a  painter,  I  could  do  assemblage,  and  I  couldn't 
actually  do  sculpture.   So  in  my  junking  forays- - 

I  remember  one  day  John  Outterbridge  and  I  were  out 
junking  around- -that ' s  not  the  word  we  used  to  use  either. 
But  I  was  out  there  somewhere,  and  Bridge  knew  where  this 
junkyard  was.   In  fact,  those  pieces  in  that  one,  the  Hoe, 
because  it's  a  hoe  and  some  stove  legs--  I  was  at  one  of 
Bridge's  junkyards  when  I  found  those  parts.   We  were 
someplace  looking  for  junk,  and  this  guy  had  ammunition 
boxes.   They  used  to  hold  mortar  shells,  circa  the  Korean 
War.   The  guy  had  a  big  stack  of  them,   I  said,  "Hey,  how 
much  for  one  of  them?"   And  he  told  me.   I  said,  "How  much 
for  twelve  of  them?"   And  he  gave  a  real --like  two  dollars 
a  piece  or  something.   So  I  bought  twelve  of  them.   And 
they  sat  around  in  my  basement,  in  my  backyard,  in  my 
studio  for  a  long  time. 

One  day  I  started  thinking  about  them,  because  I  had 
to  do  a  master's  thesis.   And  the  guy  said,  "You  could 
either  do  a  written  thesis,  or  you  could  do  a  visual 
presentation, "  but  you  had  to  write  a  paper.   So  I  wrote 
this  paper  called  "Spirit  vs.  Technology,"  and  my  premise 
was  that  technology  was  a  corpse  unless  it  was  imbued  by 
spirit.   I  used  the  analogy  further  that  you  could  take  a 
car,  which  was  a  technical  process,  and  you  could  let  it 
sit  in  your  driveway  and  nobody  would  drive  it,  nobody 


would  touch  it,  and  it  would  slowly  deteriorate.   If  it 
sat  there  long  enough,  it  would  deteriorate,  even  if  it 
had  been  brand-new,  to  the  point  where  it  was  inoperable. 
It  took  the  spirituality  of  a  person  getting  in  there, 
turning  on  the  ignition,  starting  up  the  car,  doing  all 
the  processes  that  are  involved  in  driving.   So  technology 
without  spirit  couldn't  function.   And  then  also,  from  the 
other  angle,  that  famous  line  in  George  Jackson's 
"Technology  was  a  headless  beast  at  the  controls  of  a 
machine  gone  mad, "  talking  about  American  ideas  and 
things.   So  to  me,  I  was  trying  to  show  spirit  and 

I  think  that  first  piece  that  I  tried  to  use  was 
Bird  and  Diz.   It  was  right  there.   I  was  showing  that 
Charlie  Parker  and  Dizzy  Gillespie--  I  had  found  some  old 
horns  and  some  pressure  gauges  and  things.   I  remember 
going  to  a  secondhand  store  and  buying  a  beautiful  piece 
of  dark  blue  pinstripe  suit  and  cutting  that  up  in  there 
and  putting  that  as  a  liner  in  the  bottom  of  the  box  and 
then  showing  that  Dizzy  Gillespie  and  Bird  [Charlie 
Parker]  were  a  good  [example]  of  how  the  technical 
process,  that  created  those  instruments  primarily  for 
classical  music,  had  no  idea  in  the  creator's  mind  that 
Bird  was  going  to  pick  up  the  horn  and  play  it  like  he 
did.   Or  that  Dizzy  Gillespie--  Or  that  Bird  and  Diz  and 


Thelonius  Monk  and  them  would  all  come  together  and  make 
be-bop.   That's  what  spirit  does  to  technology.   Spirit 
can  take  technology  on  an  evolution  that  the  technology ' s 
creator  never  intended  it  to  go.   So  then  I  took  the-- 
I ' m  sorry . 

MASON:   Did  you  work  on  the  surface  of  the  boxes  at  all? 
RIDDLE:   Uh-huh.   Like  I  said,  I  lined  the  inside  of  the 
musical  side  with  a  kind  of  suit  material  that  the 
brothers  used  to  wear  on  those  sets  back  in  the  old  be-bop 
era  when  the  musicians  were  well-dressed  and  everything. 
Then  I  took  the  front  surface  of  the  door-- 

I  had  an  artist  friend  named  Danny  [Daniel]  LaRue 
Johnson.   I  remember  when  Danny  and  I  were  first  starting 
to  deal  with  art  in  L.A.   I  was  over  to  Danny's  house  one 
time.   I  was  sitting  there  talking,  and  he  was  rubbing  on 
this  box,  on  a  piece  of  wood,  a  Joseph  Cornell  kind  of 
assemblage.   He  used  to  do  a  lot  of  rat  traps  and  paint 
American  flags  black  and  have  black  dolls  caught  in  the 
rat  traps.   But  he'd  paint  them  all  black,  like  Louise 
Nevelson,  to  combine  all  the  different  fragmented  parts 
into  the  commonality  of  being  one  color.   So  that  made 
them  one,  even  though  they  were  separate.   I  always  liked 
how--  But  he  was  rubbing  on  this  box,  and  I  said,  "Man, 
why  do  you  spend  so  much  time  rubbing  and  polishing?"   He 
said,  "Some  people  call  it  the  finish  fetish, "  and  he 


started  laughing.   He  said,  "But,  you  know,  I  do  it 
because  not  only  is  it  peaceful,  it--as  an  artist--gives 
me  time  to  think  and  relaxes  me."   He  said,  "But  it's 
craftsmanship. "   And  he  said,  "No  matter  what  a  piece 
looks  like  or  what  it  is,  if  it  has  craftsmanship  as  an 
integral  part  of  it,  it  will  always  be  presentable  just  on 
a  craftsmanship  level." 

Now,  once  you  draw  people  into  the  craftsmanship, 
then  you  rip  them  apart  with  the  concept  within  the 
craftsmanship.   You  see,  craftsmanship  has  the  ability  to 
draw  people  to  itself,  just  because  it's  a  thing  of  such 
quality  that  everybody  recognizes  it.   Well,  not 
everybody,  but  enough  people.   You  know,  they'll  say, 
"Well,  that's--"  And  they'll  touch  it,  and  then  all  of  a 
sudden,  they'll  look  around  the  edge  of  this  smooth 
surface  and  here's  something  that's  as  sharp  as  a  razor 
blade  trying  to  cut  their- - 


SEPTEMBER  5,  1992 

RIDDLE:   That's  the  only  piece  in  that  whole  series  where 
the  parts  extended  outside  of  the  box,  too.   I  mean,  I  did 
that  on  purpose,  because  I  wanted  to  show  that  the 
brothers'  technology  was  breaking  out  of  the  boxes. 

Now,  I  used  anununition  boxes  for  two  reasons, 
because--  They  had  those  rope  handles  so  they  could  hang. 
All  I  had  to  do  was  take  a  two-by-four  and  mount  each  one 
on  a  two-by-four  and  I  could  exhibit  them  like  that  with 
the  doors  closed  so  that  the  viewer  had  to  unlatch  it-- 
it ' s  just  a  simple  latch  on  the  front--but  they  had  to 
unlatch  those  two  hinges  and  open  up  the  art  to  see  what 
was  happening  in  there.   So  I  kind  of  liked  that,  because 
it  made  people  have  to  do  a  participatory  thing. 

So  it  was  really  my  master's  thesis,  and  that  was 
nice.   It  was  a  self-contained  kind  of  storage  thing,  too. 
You'd  close  the  lid,  put  the  little  latches  on,  and  stack 
them  up,  because  they  were  meant  to  be  stacked  up  on  top 
of  each  other.   Therefore,  they  wouldn't  take  up  much 
space;  the  lids  kept  dust  and  dirt  out  of  them.   They  sat 
over  at  Bridge's  house  from  the  time  I  left  Atlanta  to  the 
time  the  California  [African  American]  Museum  bought  them. 
So  they  probably  sat  in  Bridge's  house--  They  bought  them 


in  '89,  I  left  in  '74,  so  they  sat  at  Bridge's  house  for 
about  fifteen  years,  you  know. 

MASON:   Were  they  all  meant  to  be  seen  together? 
RIDDLE:   Uh-huh. 

MASON:  I  remember  I  saw  this  show  and  I  think  there  was 
one  they  put  at  the  end  that  was  closed  and  you  couldn ' t 
open  the  door. 

RIDDLE:   I  did  that  on  purpose  because  I  was  tired  of 
doing  them  boxes.   I  promised  them  I  would  have  ten  for 
the  show,  or  nine  for  the  show,  and  so  I  did  one  you 
couldn't  open.   There  ain't  nothing  in  that  one.   You 
know,  like  just  humor.   Humor  and  laziness.   But  I  did 
that  on  purpose,  because  everybody  said,  "What's  in  that 
one?"   I  used  to  say,  "You'll  never  know."   [laughter] 
MASON:   You  are  very  mysterious. 

RIDDLE:   That's  assemblage,  too,  that  Charlie  Parker.   I 
like  the  bebop  era.   So  this  piece  has  all  assembled  parts 
on  the  bottom.   I  put  little  boxes  on  the  bottom  that 
showed  African  instruments  to  show  that  their  heritage  is 
basically  African  instruments.   But  the  rest  of  it's  two- 
dimensional  . 
MASON:   Okay. 

RIDDLE:   There  might  be  some  balsa  wood  thickness  pieces 
in  there  like  there's  an  African  person  over  here 
somewhere  that  grew  out  of  his  bass  fiddle.   It's  hard  to 


see  in  that,  but  I  always  liked  that.   That's  a  real 

picture  that  had  Charlie  Parker  and  Dizzy  Gillespie  and 

John  Coltrane  when  he  was  a  real  young  musician.   He  was 

in  the  background  just  asking  could  he  sit  in.   And  I 

always  liked  that  because  it  has  historical  significance. 

MASON:   And  here's  an  Olmec.   Maybe  it's  an  Olmec  head-   I 

don ' t  know . 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  it's  an  Olmec.   I  like  to  try  to  show--  And 

then,  again,  there  was  Liberty. 

MASON:   Yeah,  the  Statue  of  Liberty. 

RIDDLE:   I  was  using  Liberty  in  that  case  to  say  that-- 

[tape  recorder  off]   [Carmen  Riddle  joins  interview] 

MASON:   We  started  off  with  Bill  Pajaud.   We  wanted  to  get 

some  of  the  older  people  in  the  arts  community.   We  talked 

with  Ruth  Waddy,  Betye  Saar.   And  then  we  started  to  talk 

to  people  who  were  younger,  but  who  had  had  galleries, 

like  Alonzo  Davis.   And  I  just  did  Suzanne  Jackson  a 

couple  of  weeks  ago. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Where  is  Suzanne? 

MASON:   She's  up  in  San  Francisco.   She  just  got  her 

degree  from  Yale.   She  just  got  an  MFA  [master  of  fine 

arts],  and  she's  working  in  costume  design  right  now. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh,  that's  what  she's  doing? 

MASON:   Yeah.   I  mean  she's  still  painting,  but  she's 

earning  her  living  now  as  a  costume  designer  in  between. 


Well,  she  says  she  hasn't  really  wanted  to  show  yet,  but  I 

don ' t  know . 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   She  was  doing  those  chickens  when  we  saw 

her  last  time. 

MASON:   She's  just  trying  to  make  money  to  get  supplies. 

RIDDLE:   You  know,  before  when  you  were  asking  about  the 

different  family  stuff--  She  has  a  whole  family  story  that 

fits  in  very  well  with  me.   That's  why-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   What's  that? 

RIDDLE:   Well,  I  told  her  about  how  the  first  house  I  ever 

lived  in  was  your  grandmother's,  Alice  Garrott's. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Yeah.   Well,  our  families  knew  each  other 

generations  back. 

RIDDLE:   And  her  family  was  one  of  the  first  black 

families  in  Glendale. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   No,  California. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  but  I  mean  when  they  lived  out  in  Glendale. 

MASON:   When  did  they  come  to  California? 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Well,  my  grandfather  was  the  first  black 

dentist.   And  they  came  to  California  before  slavery  was 


MASON:   So  he  was  before  [John  A.]  Somerville  then? 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Somerville  and  my  grandfather.   Yeah,  he 

said  that  was  wrong.   [laughter]   So  it  wasn't-- 

MASON:   Yeah,  it's  always  wrong. 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   No,  it  was  wrong. 
MASON:   It's  always  wrong. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   It  is  wrong,  because  Dr.  Garrott--  That's 
just  something  that's  happened  in  the  last  few  years  that 
they've  said  Somerville.   But  Dr.  Garrott  was  the  first 
one,  and  then  Somerville. 

MASON:   Of  course,  he  wrote  his  autobiography  [Man  of 
Color:  An  Autobiography  of  J.  Alexander  Somerville] ,  too. 
So  he'd  probably  say,  "Well,  you  know,  I  was  the  first." 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Yeah,  there's  an  argument  there.   But 
anyway,  they  were  there  in  the  1800s  and  everything  like 
that.   But  our  families  were  connected  the  whole  time. 
RIDDLE:   We  used  to  live  close  to  each  other.   Her  mother 
and  father  lived  right  almost  next  door  to  my  mother 
[Helen  Louise  Wheeler]  and  father  [John  Thomas  Riddle] 's 
two  best  friends.  Ruby  and  Ollie  Terry.   And,  yet,  we 
didn't  know  each  other. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And,  you  know,  the  thing  that  they  had  at 
the  black  museum--  You  know,  the  California  history  thing? 
MASON:   Yeah,  yeah. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Well,  our  families  are  in  there.   Yeah, 
from  that--  We  went  to  that  show  the  last  time  we  were 
there.   And  so  it  was  really  interesting  seeing  that. 
RIDDLE:   She  had  parts  of  her  family  in  it  and  parts  of  my 
family.   And  yet,  we  didn't  know  each  other. 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Well,  we  did,  but  we  didn't  pay  any 

attention  to  each  other.   They  used  to  have  the 

pharmaceutical  doctors  and  lawyers  breakfast  in  Griffith 

Park  every  summer.   They  had  a  breakfast,  and  we  always 

went.   We  saw  a  picture  after  we  got  married  where  he  was 

at  one  end  and  I  was  at  the  other,  and  we  didn't  even  know 

that  we  were  both  there. 

MASON:   Yeah,  that's  pretty  funny. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  didn't  start  art  until  after  we  were 


RIDDLE:   See,  she's  telling  it.   She  knows  it.   See,  she 

actually  saved  me. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   We  won't  go  into  all  that.   [laughter] 

But  he  didn't  do  any  art  until  we  were  married.   And  then 

he  did  the  same  picture  over  and  over  again,  on  one  piece 

of  canvas . 

RIDDLE:   I  just  kept  painting  it  over. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Because  he  was  in  the  air  force- - 

RIDDLE:   And  I  threw  it  away. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  did  the  same  piece  over  and  over  again, 

but  it  was  something  that  he  seemed  to  like  and  be 

interested  in.   So  when  he  got  out  of  the  service,  he  went 

to  art  school  at  Cal[ifornia]  State  [University,  Los 

Angeles] .   But  what  I  was  going  to  ask  is,  now,  who  else 

did  you  see?   Because,  see,  there  was  a  time  when  all  of 


them--  It  was  so  much  fun  in  California,  because  they  had 

this  group  of  artists  and  families  that  we  all  did 

everything  together . 

MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   With  Dan  Concholar  and  Alonzo  Davis. 

MASON:   Yeah,  we  interviewed  Alonzo. 

RIDDLE:   And  Bridge. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Dale  [Davis]  and  Bridge  and-- 

RIDDLE:   And  Yvonne  Cole  Meo. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And  Betye  Saar.   And,  of  course,  Ruth 

Waddy  was  always  in  on  every--  She  helped  get  the  people 

together,  too,  along  with  Alonzo. 

MASON:   Yeah.   At  the  same  time,  there  was  this  other 

group  of  artists. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Who  was  that? 

MASON:   You  mentioned  Daniel  LaRue  Johnson  and  people 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh,  Danny  Johnson  was  along  that  time,  but 

Danny  was  a  very  individual-type  person.   He  wasn't  a 

joiner.   He  was  a  very  good  artist,  but  he  was  not  very 

sociable  and  he  didn't  want  to  be  around  other  people.   He 

took  his  family  and  went  to  New  York. 

RIDDLE:   He  preceded  Mel[vin]  [Edwards]  and  them  to  New 



CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Mel  was  a  friend  of  Danny's.   Now,  I  guess, 

that  was  about  his  best  friend.   So  they  both  went  to  New 


RIDDLE:   That  was  in  '58. 

MASON:   And  then  he  went  to  study  in  Paris. 

RIDDLE:   That  was  in  '58,  because  he  came  by  and  said, 

"Man,  we  ought  to  go  to  New  York."   And  I  thought  about  it, 

but  I  was  afraid. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Well,  he-- 

MASON:   But  I--  Oh,  I'm  sorry. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Go  ahead.   Go  ahead. 

MASON:   No,  I  was  just  going  to  talk  about  some  of  the 

other  artists  who  were  in  the  black  shows,  like  [Los 

Angeles  1972:   A]  Panorama  [of  Black  Artists]  and  then  they 

kind  of  went  off  on  their  own. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Who  was  that? 

MASON:   Like  Fred  [Frederick  J.]  Eversley  and,  let's  see, 

Marvin--  Marvin  Harden  wasn't  in  the-- 

RIDDLE:   Fred  was  real  white.   Because  he  went  out  to  the 

white  artists,  because  they  were  doing  resin  casts.   He  did 

those  beautiful  resin-casted  pieces.   But  he  was  hanging 

out  with  the-- 

MASON:   Plus  he--  He  really — 

RIDDLE:   He  became  an  artist  though.   I  mean,  Fred  became-- 

I'm  not  saying  we  weren't  artists.   But  he  became  an 


accepted  artist  in  corporate  America,  because  he  had, 

like — 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Commercially. 

RIDDLE:   Pieces  in  plazas  and,  I  mean,  before  anybody  was 

doing  that. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Yeah.   He  was  more  into  crafts,  and  he  was 

very  commercial.   He  could  make  money  off  of--  Around 

whites  a  lot,  you  know. 

MASON:   Do  you  want  me  to  turn  the  tape  off?   Or--? 


RIDDLE:   No.   Is  it  off  or  on? 

MASON:   It's  on. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah.   I  tell  you,  you  could  edit  this  out.   She 

knows  a  lot  of  stuff. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh.   Well,  I  don't  know.   I  didn't  know  you 

had  the  tape  on. 

RIDDLE:   See,  now  she's  going  to  clam  up.   She's  not  going 

to  tell  you  about  what  her  mother  is  like. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   She  doesn't  care  about  that! 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  well,  she  asked  about  all  the  parents  and 


MASON:   Yeah,  well — 

RIDDLE:   Like,  her  mother  is,  right  now,  she's  ninety-six. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   She's  probably  ninety-eight,  but  she  puts 

her  age  back. 


RIDDLE:   And  she's  blind,  completely  blind.   And  she  lives 
by  herself,  and  she  do  what  she  did. 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   She  knew  everybody  in  California. 
RIDDLE:   She's  got  like--because  probably  her  blindness, 
too,  but  even  before  that--  She's  the  keeper  of  the 
history.   She  can  tell  you  about  every  family  back  in 
certain  eras  and  things  and  all  the  relationships  between 
this  person  and  what  happened  to  that  kid,  this  kid.   It's 
amazing.   I  mean,  she's  like  out  of  the  tradition  of  the 
old  African  tradition  where  the  Creoles  and  the  people  kept 
the  oral  history  to  pass  it  on.   She  has,  outside  of  her 
blindness — and  now  she  says  she's  tired  of  living  so  long-- 
nothing  wrong  with  her.   I  mean,  she  can  bend  down  and  get 
things  out  of  the  lowest  shelf  on  the  cupboard  and  not  have 
to  pull  herself  up  on  the  countertop  or  anything.   I  mean, 
she  fell  and  broke  a  rib  when  we  were  out  there  last 
Thanksgiving.   She  was  healed  in  two  weeks. 
MASON :   Wow . 

RIDDLE:   I  mean,  she's  an  amazing  person.   Her  mother  and 
father's  side  is  a  whole  history.   But  without  that  part  a 
lot  of  me  is  missing,  because  we've  been  together,  like  I 
said,  about  forty  years,  that  I've  known  her. 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   We  met  the  first  day  at  City  College,  LACC 
[Los  Angeles  City  College],  and  we've  been  together  ever 


MASON:   Yeah.   Well,  that's  amazing,  because  it's  like  most 

of  the  artists  I  talk  to,  and  even  non-artists--  You  know, 

Cecil  Fergerson  talks  about  being  married  three  and  four 

times  and  stuff.   I  don't  know  how  many  times  he's  been 

married,  but,  you  know  it  seems  to  just-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I  know,  everybody. 

MASON:   It  seems  to  just  really  destroy- - 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  just  didn't  make  it.   You  don't  have 

Dan  Concholar  on  there? 

MASON:   We  have  kind  of  a-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  doesn't  do  art  now,  but  he  was  a  great 

artist  in  his  own  way.   But  when  his  wife  [Olivia 

Concholar]  left  him,  he  was  just  so  crushed-- 

RIDDLE:   Never  done  art  since. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  went  to  New  York  and  hasn't  done  art 


MASON:   Suzanne  Jackson  ran  into  him  in  New  York. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   New  York,  yeah. 

MASON:   But  I  can't  remember  what  she  said. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He's  in-- 

MASON:   He  has  some  administrative  kind  of  job. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Yeah,  that's  what  he's  doing. 

RIDDLE:   He  promotes  other  artists. 

MASON:   Yeah,  right. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Yeah.   But  he  was  great.   And  he  lived  like 


an  artist.   I  mean,  he  and  his  wife  just  lived  like 


RIDDLE:   They  lived  on  Budlong  [Avenue].   They  used  to 

always  live  on  Budlong. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  lived  on  Budlong,  this  old  house,  but 

they  were  both  from  Arizona.   She  was  Hispanic.   But  their 

lives  were  so  interesting.   And  then,  David  Hammons.   I 

don't  know  if  you  know  David  Hammons? 

MASON:   Yeah.   We  were  going  to  interview  him,  but  he's 

living  in  Italy  now. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Yeah.   David  had  a  family  in  Los  Angeles. 

Now,  he  gave  up  his  family.   He  had  the  nicest  wife  and  two 

little  kids.   They're  grown  now,  but-- 

RIDDLE:   Carmen,  David,  and  Becky.   Becky  was  his  wife. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   But  he  left  his  family  in  order  to  pursue 

his  art  career.   So  I  felt  bad  about  that,  because  I  just 

don't  think  anything  is  worth  that.   But  he  has  since  gone 

on  to  bigger  and  better  things  in  the  world  of  art.   But, 

you  know,  his  kids  kind  of  resent  it. 

RIDDLE:   But  now,  one  thing  about--  Now  David,  he  was  a-- 

The  thing  good  about  David  was  he  had  a  super  sense  of 

humor . 

MASON:   Did  you  say  sense  of  humor? 

RIDDLE:   Uh-huh.   I  mean,  really,  a  great  sense  of  humor, 

to  me.   It  was  the  same  kind  of  sense  of  humor  that  I  had 


one  similar  to.   So  we  always  saw  the  humorous  side  of  all 
the  things  related  to  art,  which  gives  you  a  whole  other 

MASON:   Yeah.   If  you  look  at  some  of  his  pieces  now--  I 
remember  seeing  a  piece  of  fried  chicken. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And  the  funniest  thing  is  he's--  I  call  him 
a  con  artist,  because  at  the  museum  he  had  a  show  here  a 
year  or  two  ago  and  he  had  ribs  hanging  up  there.   And  the 
white  people  would  come  up,  everybody  had  their  champagne 
and  [were]  dressed  up  and  everything,  and  they  would  say, 
"And,  uh,  how  do  you  explain  this?"   He  had  been  talking  to 
us,  laughing  at  how  much  money  he  had  made,  and  he  doesn't 
have  to  put  out  any  money  on  these  things  because  he  just 
picks  up  stuff.   He  never  pays  for  his  material.   When  he 
did  things  with  hair,  he  just  went  to  the  barbershops.   And 
when  he  did  [inaudible]  art  when  he  was  here,  you  know, 
anything  free.   Then  all  his  money  just  comes  to  him  when 
he  gets  paid  for  it. 

So  he  said,  "Oh,  yeah.   These  people,  you  just  tell 
them  anything."   So  the  lady  said,  "Now,  how  did  you  happen 
to  think  of  this  rib.   Is  this  a  rib?   A  barbecue  rib?" 
And  what  did  he  say?   He  said,  "Well,  yes.   The  way  I  feel 
about  this--"  And  he  went  into  some  long  dissertation,  and 
she  just  thought  it  was  great  and  brought  her  friends  over. 
And  that's  why  I  call  him  the  con  artist.   Because  he  does 


stuff  like  bottle  caps  and  then  makes  it  into  something. 

MASON:   Yeah.   There's  one  in  here  that's  like  a 

basketball . 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Yeah.   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   He  has  ingenious  ways  of  doing-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  never  spends  a  cent.   And  I  do  admire 

him  for  his  money-making  ways,  because  he  makes  plenty  of 

money . 

RIDDLE:   He's  got  one  in  that  book  where  he's  just  got 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  just  gathers  up  whatever  he  can  free. 

RIDDLE:   Skillets  in  the  Closet. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  never  pays  for  a  thing. 

MASON:   Yeah,  there  are  the  bottle  caps. 


MASON:   The  basketball. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Uh-huh.   And  they  didn't  like  it  when  he 

did  a  piece  of  art--  What  was  it? 

RIDDLE:   The  one  that  he  did  on  Jesse  [L,]  Jackson. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Jesse  Jackson. 

MASON:   Yeah.   How  Ya  Like  Me  Now. 

RIDDLE:   They  painted  him  white. 

MASON:   Yeah. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   But  he  didn't  mean  that. 

RIDDLE:   They  smashed  him  up  with  some  sledgehammers. 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And  that  must  have  really  made  him  feel 


RIDDLE:   He  felt  bad  at  the  time. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   --because  he  likes  to  feel  like  he ' s  a 

black  artist,  and  for  blacks  not  to  relate  to  it  made  him 

feel  really  bad. 

RIDDLE:   But  see,  he  was  too  abstract  in  that--  I  mean, 

for  black  people.   Because  one  thing  about  black  people, 

we're  not  abstract.   We  would  like  everything,  like,  what 

it  is.   We  want  it  more  simplified.   I  saw  that  in  the 

movies . 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I  want  to  see  people  and  color  and  stuff. 

MASON:   Yeah,  but  when  you  say  abstract,  I  mean,  you  know, 

African  art  is  really  abstract.   So-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I  don't  think  so. 

MASON:   You  don't  think  so? 


RIDDLE:   No,  I  don't  either.   I  think  the  African  artists 

now  who  do  art,  it's  somewhat  abstract.   But  I  think  when 

it  was  in  its  original  form-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Utilitarian. 

RIDDLE:  --when  it  was  artifact--  Yeah,  utilitarian. 

Because  it  wasn't  really  viewed  in  the  sense--  I  mean,  be 

adding  something  that's  not  there--  It  wasn't  really 

viewed  for  its  aesthetic.   I  think  if  the  aesthetic  was 


there,  it  was  there  because  of  the  pride  and  the  tradition 
of  carving,  because  they  weren't  looking  at  avant-garde 
things,  they  were  looking  at  keeping  a  tradition  through 
repetition.   And  the  more  you  could  keep  the  tradition, 
the  better  you  were.   Whereas  in  the  Western  art,  which 
isn't  artifact,  it's  like  "Come  up  with  this  new  thing  and 
get  it  patented."   And  everybody  says,  "Well,  Alexander 
Calder  does  kinetic  art  mobiles.   Therefore,  nobody  else 
can  do  mobiles."   That's  why  you  don't  see  the  advancement 
on  his  principle  of  balance  and  kineticism  through 
mobiles,  because  if  you  do,  then  everybody  would  say, 
"Man,  you're  just  copying  Calder."   So  then  what  you  might 
really  feel  would  contribute  doesn't  get  a  chance  to 
perpetuate  what  Calder  did,  and  that's  a  sad  thing,  but 
that's  the  way  the  West  looks  at  it.   It's  got  to  be 
something  new  and  different.   It's  like  new  for  new's 

Now,  David's  piece  you  just  showed  me  with  the  bottle 
caps  and  the  basketball,  if  you  look  at  that  from  a 
distance,  that  has  qualities  of  African  art  about  it,  just 
in  the  shape  of  the  design. 
MASON:   The  pattern. 

RIDDLE:   The  patterns.   I  remember  when  David  first —  We 
used  to  argue  about  that  in  the  days  Carmen  speaks  of. 
Was  there  black  art  in  the  days  of  the  penitentiary  and 


all  of  that?   Was  there  black  art  at  the  riots?   You  know, 

that  was  the  big  question.   Is  there  black  art  or  is  it 

just  black  people  doing  art?   Or  is  there  such  a  thing  as 

black  art?   And  those  arguments  used  to  rage.   And  David 

used  to  be  in  the  position  that  there  was  no  such  thing  as 

black  art.   We  used  to  get  into  almost  cussing  at  each 

other  about  those.   It  was  all  in  Alonzo ' s  Brockman 

Gallery  on  Saturdays.   The  artists  would  meet.   But  it  was 

healthy,  because  you  had  to  come  back  the  next  time  they 

met  with  visual  proof  of  your  position.   You  couldn't  just 

verbalize.   And  they  could  come  back  and  show  me  some 

black  art.   So  we  would  get  into  that.   The  Wilbur  Haynie. 

Now,  he  was  a  great  artist.   I  don't  know  what  happened  to 


MASON:   Yeah,  I  think  he  went-- 

RIDDLE:   Wilbur  was  bad,  boy. 

MASON:   Yeah,  he  did  these  hard-edged  kinds  of  things. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  maybe  just  a  blue  field  with  a  red  line 

coming  through,  but  a  beautiful  red.   It  wasn't  just  an 

old  jive  red. 

MASON:   Was  he  part  of  Brockman  Gallery  or  was  he  off  on 

his  own? 

RIDDLE:   Uh,  he  was  a  little  bit  more  off,  but  he  came 

through  there.   And  Ernest--what  was  Ernest's  name? — he 

died.   Ernest  who  did  the  dissertation  on  BAAism.   It  was 


a  classic  one  night. 
MASON:   On  what? 

RIDDLE:   BAAism.   He  got  up  one  night  and  he  talked  about 
BAAism  which  was--  See  everywhere  at  that  time  in  the  mid- 
sixties,  black  groups  like  AFRI-COBRA  and  all  these  people 
were  jumping  out.   But  there  was  always  the  Black  Artists 
of  Baltimore,  the  Black  Artists  Association  of  New 
Orleans,  the  Black  Artists  Association  of  L.A.   So  that 
was  BAA.   It  was  always  BAA,  the  Black  Artists 
Association.   So  Ernest  did  this  thing,  a  dissertation  on 
BAAism,  and  he  was  putting  down  all  the  black  artists 
associations.   Because  this  was  this:   "Was  there  black 
art  or  was  there  just  black  artists?"   I  wish  somebody  had 
taped  it,  because  that  was  the  funniest  thing. 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Who  was  that? 

RIDDLE:   This  guy,  I  can't  think  of  his  name.   Ernest 
Herbert.   He  died.   But  he  was  a  really  good  artist,  an 
abstract  artist.   And  so  he  was  against  black  art.   He 
just  thought  they  were  black  artists  and  some  of  them  did 
black  art  and  he  taught  the  whole  concept  of  these--all 
over  the  country- -black  groups  and  he  called  it  BAAism. 
He  would  start  baying  like  a  sheep  at  the  end  of  each  kind 
of  discourse,  and  he  would  go  "BAAAAism."   Well,  we  would 
just--  That  was  a  hilarious  thing,  boy.   I  still  remember. 
I  don't  even  remember  what  he  said  now,  but  it  was 


hilarious  at  the  time. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   What's  Alonzo  doing? 

MASON:   He  works  at  the  San  Antonio  Art  Institute. 

RIDDLE:   He's  in  San  Antonio? 

MASON:   Yeah,  he's  on  the  faculty.   He's  like  dean  or 

something  of  the  college  of  fine  arts. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Really? 

MASON:   Yeah.   Or  chairman,  or  something  like  that. 

RIDDLE:   That's  where  Claude  Booker  came  from,  San 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   There's  a  lot  of  Mexicans  there. 

MASON:   Urn,  yeah.   I  went  around  to  the  school.   The 

student  body  seemed  kind  of  mixed.   He  had  one  student  who 

was  Native  American,  another  student  who  was  Mexican,  but 

she  was,  like,  you  know,  white  Mexican.   And  some  blacks. 

It  was  really  mixed. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   It's  an  art  school? 

MASON:   Yeah.   Yeah,  a  fine  arts  school. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  always  did  find  those  administrative 


RIDDLE:   Mm-hmm.   I  met  Alonzo  the  first  time  I  ever 

taught  ceramics.   I  didn't  know  how  to  fire  the  kiln  at 

L.A.  High  [School],  and  they  said,  "Well,  there's  a  guy 

over  there  at  Manual  Arts  [High  School]  who  knows  how." 

So  I  went  over  there,  and  that's  when  I  met  Alonzo,   He 


was  in  there  cussing  his  students  out.   When  I  walked  in 

the  door  he  was  calling  them  all  kinds  of  names.   And  I 

thought,  "God,  what  kind  of  school  is  this?" 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Those  were  great  days,  though.   His 

gallery  had  great  turnouts,  Brockman  Gallery.   Everybody 

came  to  those  shows. 

RIDDLE:   Mm-hmm.   That  was  the  place  to  be. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   To  either  see  the  art  or  to  be  seen. 

Because  they  had  great  outfits  and  they  had--  He  had 

music,  and  it  was  really  a  lot  of  fun.   A  lot  of  fun. 

MASON:   Somebody  said  the  difference  between  Suzanne 

Jackson's  Gallery  32  and  the  Brockman  Gallery  was  that  the 

Brockman  Gallery  showed  all  the  artists  with  MFA's,  and 

Suzanne  Jackson's  gallery  showed  everybody  else.   Because 

she  had  like  Emory  Douglas.   She  showed--  Or  is  his  name 

Douglas  Emory?   I  always  get  that  mixed  up.   But  the 


RIDDLE:   Well,  she  was  more  like--  Because  she  had  poetry 

reading  and  stuff,  too. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   She  was  more  like  an  artist  herself,  too. 

I  mean,  she  wasn't-- 

RIDDLE:   Well--  Yeah,  I  understand. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Alonzo  was  more  administrative.   Alonzo 

did  know  art.   He's  an  artist  but,  for  the  most  part,  he 

did  know  good  art.   And  Suzanne  was  a  piece  of  art.   She 


had  a  marriage  where  they  drove  off  on  a  motorcycle.   They 

had  their  marriage- - 

RIDDLE:   In  that  same  place  at-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Up  there  in  Griffith  Park. 

RIDDLE:   Up  there  where  all  the  little  ferns  were-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And  everybody  came-- 

RIDDLE:   Had  a  breakfast-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And  they  drove  off  on  a-- 

RIDDLE:   And  they  drove  off  on  the  back  of  Pete's 

motorcycle . 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   A  motorcycle. 

RIDDLE:   She  was  in  a  bridal  gown  and  the  whole  thing. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I  didn't  know  he  was  married  at  the  time. 

RIDDLE:   And  he  drove  off,  and  her  gown  and  her  thing  was 

just  flowing  in  the  back. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   She  was  really  a  character.   Plus,  she 

went  with  Bernie  [Bernard  T.]-- 

RIDDLE:   Casey. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   --Casey  for  a  long  time.   And  she  was  just 

really  far  out. 

MASON:   She  actually  had  grown  up  in  Alaska  and  San 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   She  was,  I  guess,  the  ultimate  of 


RIDDLE:   And  then  she  had,  like,  poetry  readings  and  other 


kinds  of,  like  you  say.  Panther  kinds  of  things.   She  had 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Happenings  there. 

RIDDLE:   You  know,  social,  avant-garde  things  that  mixed 

with  art. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   But  see,  Alonzo  had  a  lot  of  the  society 

and  art  and  bodies. 

RIDDLE:   He  was  right  over  there  by  where  all  the  black 

people  live. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   That's  where  Sidney  Poitier  came  and 

bought  some  of  his  art  there.   He  had  a  lot  of  stars  that 

came  to  his. 

RIDDLE:   And  other  galleries  were  raiding  Alonzo ' s 

artists,  like  Ben[jamin]  Horowitz  and  Ankrum  Gallery  and 

those  people  wanted--  They  would  come  to  Alonzo ' s  and  try 

to  pick  some  of  his  artists  off. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Black  artists. 

MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   But  Alonzo  and  them,  they  did  a  lot. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   It  was  great  because  they  brought  the 

black  artists  together. 

RIDDLE:   And  then  David  Hammons,  he  said  one  of  the 

funniest  things.   It's  so  true.   But  one  night,  like 

Carmen  said,  everybody  went,  I  mean,  to  be  seen  at 

Brockman  Gallery. 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And  then  you'd  have  outfits,  special 
outfits  just  for  Brockman  Gallery. 

RIDDLE:   And  I  remember  one  time  David  said--  He  wasn't 
there.   And  everybody  said,  "Where's  David?   Where's 
David?   Where's  David?"   And  everybody  was  in  a  panic 
because  they  thought  he  had  died  or  something,  because 
nobody  missed  an  opening  at  Brockman' s.   So  I  rushed  home 
and  said, 

"David!   David,  are  you  all  right?" 

He  said,  "Yeah. " 

I  said,  "Man,  how  come  you  didn't  come  to  the  art 

He  said,  "John,"  he  said,  "I  knew--"  He  always  talked 
funny.   He  said,  "John,  I  knew  that  I  was  the  only  black 
artist  in  Los  Angeles  doing  art  because  all  the  other 
artists  were  at  Brockman.   And  it  felt  so  good  to  be  the 
only  black  artist  in  Los  Angeles  doing  art."   Because  he 
knew  that  at  that  exact  hour,  none  of  the  other  black 
artists  were  doing  art  because  they  were  all  at 
Brockman' s.   So  he  stayed  home  and  did  art. 

MASON:   Well,  I  have  a  thing  from  you.   You  did  your  first 
one-man  show  at  Brockman  Gallery,  right?   In  '68? 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   That  was  the  beginning  of  Brockman 


[This  portion  of  the  text  has  been  sealed.] 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Well,  I  still  think  that  was  the  beginning 
of  the  black  artist  group  that  they  were  in. 
RIDDLE:   It  was. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And  that's  the  one  that's  the  most  well- 
known  on  the  whole  coast,  you  know. 
MASON:   What  about  Art-West  [Associated],  though? 
RIDDLE:   Well,  that  was  Fred  Eversley. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   That  was  just  something  that  came  out  of 

RIDDLE:   Now,  Fred  Eversley  was-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  wanted  to  have  something  else. 
RIDDLE:   You  know  who  his  brother  is,  is  Ron  Karenga. 
MASON:   Fred  Eversley 's  brother  is  Ron  Karenga? 
RIDDLE:   Not  Fred  Eversley.   What's  his  name?   Fred--  What 
was  Ron  Karenga ' s  other  name? 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I  don't  know. 

RIDDLE:   See,  Ruth  Waddy  started  Art-West  with  this  guy. 
The  guy  who  was  in  it,  he  was  a  gay.   But  this  was  like 
when  gay  was-- 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh,  you  mean  that  real  tall  gay  one? 

RIDDLE:   When  gay  wasn't  like  gay  is  now.   And  he  wore-- 

MASON:   Was  it  William  Smith? 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  was  effeminate. 

RIDDLE:   Wesley  Gale.   And  he  would  come  with  horsetail 

fly  swishers.   I  mean,  he  was  like-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  was  really  outlandish. 

RIDDLE:   "I'm  Wesley  Gale."   I  mean,  he  was  outlandish. 

But  now,  Ruth's  group,  Ron--  What  was  Ron  [now  Maulana] 

Karenga ' s  name  before  he  was  Ron  Karenga?   Because  he  used 

to  always  be  at  Halver  Milley's,  at  those  parties  arguing. 

But  he  was  a  social  worker.   And  his  brother  was  an 

artist,  because  he  was  in  Art-West.   And  I  remember 

afterwards  when  I  found  out--  Because  his  brother  was 

real,  kind  of  like--  There  was  a  lot  of  feminine  men 

artists  in  Art-West,  and  his  brother  was  one  of  them.   And 

I  remember  later  when  Ron  Karenga  became  Ron  Karenga,  I 

used  to  tease  him  about  his  brother,  because  Ron  was  out 

there  being  all  militant  and  everything. 

MASON:   He's  very,  very  macho. 

RIDDLE:   But  he  went  too  far,  because  he  was  torturing 

women . 

MASON:   Yeah,  I  heard  he's  been  arrested. 

RIDDLE:   We  used  to  go  to  some  of  his  things  and  the 

people  were  saying,  "Ron  Karenga I   Ron  Karenga!"   It  was 


like  idolizing  Ron  Karenga  rather  than--  I  mean,  it 

actually  culminated  in  the  war  with  the  Panthers. 

MASON:   Yeah,  "Bunchy"  Carter- - 

RIDDLE:   In  fact,  two  guys  at  UCLA,  Bunchy  Carter  and 

[John]  Huggins,  got  killed  out  there  on  campus. 

^4AS0N:   Why  was  that?   I  mean,  because-- 

RIDDLE:   Because  the  FBI  and  them  had  infiltrated  the--or 

whatever  part  of  the  American  government- -organizations. 

And  you  know,  it's  like,  "Man,  they  talking  about  your 

momma  over  there,"  with  us.   And  then  they  would  tell  the 

Black  Panthers,  "Man,  they  say  your  momma  was  a  dog." 

"Man,  what ' d  you  say  about  my  momma?"   And  then  all  of 

that  black  hostility  spilled  over  in  those  killings,  but-- 

MASON:   Do  you  think  their  ideology  was  that  different  or 


RIDDLE:   Well,  it's  kind  of  like  DuBois  and  Booker  T. 

[Washington],  you  know.   Malcolm  [X]  and  Martin  [Luther 

King,  Jr.].   We  need  it  all.   There's  no  one  black 

philosophy  that's  going  to  cover  all  the  black  diversity 

and  bring  everybody  together.   Again,  like  art  in  the 

Watts  riots.   My  first  real  art  stuff  came  when  I  met  Noah 

[Purifoy]  and  them  after  the  riots,  because  we  put 

together  the  first  Watts  [Summer]  Festival  [of  Art] . 

MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   The  very  first  one. 


MASON:   Were  you  part  of  the  66  Signs  of  Neon,  too? 

RIDDLE:   Uh-huh.   That's  in  that  show  with  Noah  when  he 

has  Sir  Watts.   See,  that's  when  I  met  Noah.   He  was 

making  that  thing  out  of  those  safety  pins,  because  he  had 

gotten  all  that  out  of  a  cleaners  that  had  burned  up.   But 

Signs  of  Neon  was  like,  to  me,  when  I  first  met  real  black 

artists  and  they  were  doing  stuff.   And  we  had  those  art 

festivals  out  there  in  Watts.   But  Alonzo  had  like  the 

first  black  gallery. 

MASON:   Yeah. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And  gathering. 

RIDDLE:   Those  were  the  greatest  Saturday  meetings  when 

you  had  to  bring  a  piece  to  critique.   And  it  couldn't  be 

no  old  piece;  it  had  to  be  something  you  just  worked  on. 

You  had  to  stick  it  up  there  in  front  of  everybody,  and 

everybody  sat  on  the  other  wall  at  Brockman  on  the  floor. 

And  there  was  a  couple  of  jugs  of  paisano  wine,  and 

everybody  sat  back  and-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  drank  and  partied. 

RIDDLE:   You  know,  and  you  had  to  prove  your  point  through 

your  art . 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   That's  right.   And  they  were  all  such 

great  artists,  just  great. 

RIDDLE:   And  I  got  to  really  be  friends  with  these  people 

I  had  never  met,  like  Bridge  and  David  and  John. 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Did  you  do  Outterbridge? 

MASON:   Yeah,  Richard  [Candida]  Smith--I  guess  you  talked 

to  him  on  the  phone--did  John  Outterbridge.   It  was  a  long 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh,  really? 

MASON:   He  had  a  lot  to  talk  about. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh,  yeah.   He  can  talk  a  lot  about 

everything . 

MASON:   What  about  all  those  organizations  that  sprang  up 

after  the  Watts  uprising,  like  the  Mafundi  Institute  and 

the  Watts  Writers  Workshop? 

RIDDLE:   They  were  good.   [Budd]  Schulberg  did  the  Watts 

Writers  Workshop.   And  it  gave  people  who  were  in  the 

same  organized  anger  an  outlet,  who  were  writers-   And 

what's  the  old  guy?   They  still  show  him.   He  started 

founding  and  developing  black  entrepreneurship.   A  real 

old  guy. 

MASON:   Jim  Woods? 

RIDDLE:   It's  a  real  old  guy.   He  was  young  then,  but  he's 

real  old.   I  see  him  on  TV  still,  and  he  had  a 

manufacturing--  Like  the  first  black  baseball  bats  that 

were  ever  made  for  the  major  league,  they  had  a  bat 

factory  out  there. 

MASON:   Okay.   I  know  who  you're  talking  about,  but  I 

can't  remember  what  his  name  is. 


RIDDLE:   I  mean,  it  folded.   I  used  to  go  to  those 
meetings  and  that's  when  I  first  heard  the  concept  "art 
pimps."   I  mean,  "poverty  pimps."   These  guys  would  be  in 
these  meetings  and  they  had  like  $200  alligator  shoes  and 
fine  clothes,  and  they  would  be  talking  about 
administering  this  federal  money  for  the  masses,  and  I 
could  tell  by  looking  at  them  where  the  money  was  going. 
They  would  put  that  money  in  their  pockets,  you  know.   But 
that's  when  black  folks  was  really--  Poverty  pimps,  that's 
what  they  were.   We  used  to  call  them  the  poverty  pimps, 
and  they'd  get  mad. 

But  a  lot  of  things  [were]  good  and  a  lot  of  things 
bad.   Bridge  went  out  there,  for  instance,  to  build  this 
tribute  to  the  Watts  riots. 
MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   They  burnt  that  sucker  up.   It  was  supposed  to  be 
like  a  drum  kind  of  tower  thing  that-- 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  worked  in  the  Watts  Towers. 
MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   But  those  people  burned  it  up. 

MASON:   Actually,  Richard  wanted  me  to  ask  you  about  that, 
because- - 

RIDDLE:   It's  a  vague  memory,  now.   I  just  remember  they 
built  it  and  it  burned  up. 
MASON:   Well,  who  would  have  burned  it  up?   Because  I  know 


there  was  kind  of  a-- 

RIDDLE:   People  out  there  who  didn't  like  it,  you  know. 

Because  they  felt  like-- 

MASON:   People  who  didn't  like  the  art  or  something? 

RIDDLE:   They  felt  like  it  was  in  a  vacant  lot  where  some 

stuff  had  burned  down,  as  I  recall.   And  it  was  like,  "We 

need  jobs  and  we  need  these  things,  and  you're  going  to 

put  this  old  piece  of  crap  out  here?   We  don't  care 

nothing  about  this!" 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Yeah,  you  know,  a  lot  of  people  think 

artists  are  elitists.   They  feel  that  art  isn't--  "How's 

the  art  going  to  help  me  eat?"  and  all  that. 

RIDDLE:   So  I  mean-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   There's  always  been  kind  of  a  gap  between 

art  and  the  lower  classes,  because  art  is  primarily  for-- 

Even  though  the  artists  may  be  for  the  lower  classes,  or 

from  the  lower  classes,  the  people  who  buy  art  and  get  to 

enjoy  art  are  usually  the  elite,  and  the  people  who  are 

knowledgeable  about  it. 

RIDDLE:   And  people  who  have  expendable  cash  to  buy  things 

that  are--  Again,  it  goes  into  the  abstract. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   It's  like  most  people--  Say,  before  we  got 

here--  It's  a  black  city  now.   But  before  we  got  here, 

most  of  the  people  who  were  his  patrons  were  white.   Even 

though  he  was  doing  black  art,  the  people  who  bought  his 


art  were  white.   So  it's  kind  of  a  conflict. 

MASON:   Well,  you  have  some  celebrities  here. 


MASON:   Black  celebrities,  though.   You  had  like  Sidney 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh,  yeah.   Well,  he  tries  to  think  of  the 

blacks  living-- 

RIDDLE:   Well,  he  bought  in  L.A. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   There  were  more  whites  that  supported  him 

than  blacks.   His  idea  in  doing  art,  though,  was  to  have 

blacks  buy  his  art  and  to  have  it  in  their  homes  and  to 

have  it  affordable. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  that  was  my  motto. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Because  most  of  the  people  who  could 

afford  it,  like  doctors  and  so  forth,  were  not  buying  art. 

MASON:   Like  Leon  [0.]  Banks? 

RIDDLE:   It  was  like  quality  art  at  affordable  prices. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   That's  right. 

RIDDLE:   That  was  my  motto.   That's  when  I  went  into 

printmaking,  because  you  could  do  multiple  images  and  you 

could  afford  to  sell  a  piece  for  $200,  because  you  had  one 

hundred  of  them. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Yeah,  and  most  people  could  afford  it. 

And  here,  I  mean-- 

RIDDLE:   Whereas  now  you  get  an  original,  you  want  $2,000, 


and  you  can't  find  nobody. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He's  in  everybody's  home  here.   I  mean,  he 

is  just-- 

RIDDLE:   That's  why  I  need  to  get  out  of  here.   I've 

saturated  the  market.   [laughter] 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And  plus,  like  Andy  [Andrew  J.]  Young 

[Jr.]  and  them,  they  all  have--  Andy  must  have  about  ten 

pieces  of  his  in  his  own  home.   He's  really  just  sold  to 

everybody;  [everybody]  has  some  of  his  art  here. 

RIDDLE:   And  he's  given  me  commissions,  too.   In  fact,  he 

gave  me  an  Olympic  [Games]  commission  to  do  a  poster  for 

the  Olympics.   And  they  were  mad  at  first  and  said,  "Well, 

you  can't  just  do  this  without  competition,  Andy."   And 

Shirley  Franklin  said,  "Well,  if  Andy  says  he's  going  to 

do  it,  I  guess  it  will  happen  that  way."   In  fact,  I  was 

supposed  to  call  him;  I  didn't  call  him  yet. 

MASON:   Yeah.   That  brings  me  to  a  question  that  I  wanted 

to  ask  you  about,  this  idea  of  trying  to  communicate  with 

the  black  community.   Because  the  interview  I  just  did,  we 

were  talking  about  the  Studio  Museum  and  how  the  director 

feels  that  the  Studio  Museum  should  be  responsible  to  the 

community  in  which  it  resides  and  it  shouldn't  talk  down 

to  people  and  that  sort  of  thing.   But  I  just  wonder,  how 

do  you  find  out  where  people  are  and  what  they  want  and 

what  they're  thinking  about?   I  was  also  talking  to  an 


independent  black  filmmaker  who  said  that  his  films, 
although  they  deal  with  black  life  realistically--  I  mean, 
just  take,  like.  To  Sleep  with  Anger,  Charles  Burnett.   It 
didn't  do  as  well  as  Superf ly ,  and  yet  it  was  a  film  that, 
it  seems,  a  lot  of  black  people  could  identify  with  and, 
you  know,  is  exquisitely  done.   And  so,  as  a  black  artist 
you're  trying  to  sort  of  negotiate  these  things.   How  do 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I  don't  think  he  does. 
MASON:   Oh. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Just  being  black  and  living  as  a  black 
man,  he  just  puts  down  what  he  knows. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  there's  always  resource  material  that  comes 
to  you.   That's  what  goes  all  the  way  back  to  the  earlier 
comment  on  Bobby  Seale  and  "Art  ain't  shit."   I  had  just 
gone  through  nine  years  of  night  school,  and  I  just  never 
stopped.   And  here  I  was  getting  ready  to  be  an  artist, 
and  here's  a  black  person  who  I  respected  saying  that  what 
I  did  wasn't  worth  anything.   And  then  the  only  way  I 
could  rationalize  it  was  somewhere  else.   In  the  next 
couple  of  paragraphs  in  his  book,  he  spoke  to  the  issue. 
Unless  it  advances  social  consciousness  and  promotes  black 
development  and  all  that- -then  it  has  value.   So  then  once 
I  saw  that  rationalization,  I  said,  "Okay,  now  I'm 
justified."   But  I  know  in  another  sense  it's  locked  me 


into  a  process  I've  never  gotten  out  of,  and  that's  the 

social  consciousness  of  black  people  through  art,  where  a 

lot  of  times  I'd  like  just  to  give  that  up.   But  like 

Carmen  said,  there's  always,  every  day,  some  resource.   It 

could  be  Rodney  King;  it  can  be  Somalia  versus  whatever 

that  place  is. 

MASON:   Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

RIDDLE:   Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   That's  pretty  good. 

RIDDLE:   And,  you  know,  it's  just  like  it  can  be  even  more 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   The  Haitians. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  the  Haitians  versus  they  let  all  the 

Hispanics  come  because  they  work  for  nothing:   you  don't 

have  to  pay  any  benefits,  you  don't  pay  Uncle  Sam  taxes, 

because  this  is  people  that  don't  really  exist  except  they 

come  to  work  every  day. 

MASON:   I  think  they  do  pay  taxes,  though. 

RIDDLE:   Not  on  all  of  them.   I  mean,  there's  a  lot  of 

that  Hispanic  labor  that  doesn't  exist  on  paper,  but  it 

exists  in  production.   And  that's  profit.   Every  nickle 

they  can  save  off  a  worker  from  salary  right  on  through 

the  whole  wage,  cost  of  workers,  I  mean--  But  that's  why 

they  let  them  come  in  by  the  millions. 

MASON:   Let  me  turn  this  tape  over. 


RIDDLE:   It's  SO  the  Hispanics  can  come  in  by  the 


MASON:   Well,  that's  okay-- 

RIDDLE:   But,  I  mean,  that's  the  same  way  we  were  talking 

about  yesterday.   They  shot  down  that  plane  over  there  in 

Yugoslavia  with  the  Italian  United  Nations  worker.   Now, 

if  Saddam  Hussein  had  shot  down  or  even  shot  at  some  of 

those  inspectors,  [George  H.W.]  Bush  would  be  blowing 

Saddam  Hussein  up  right  today.   But  it  just  depends. 

They're  not  going  to  go  over  there  and  jump  on  other  white 

people.   That's  why  George  Carlin  does  that  whole  comic 

routine:   we  only  blow  up  black,  brown,  and  yellow  people. 

In  my  lifetime,  since  the  Second  World  War,  there  haven't 

been  any  wars  with  white  people.   It's  always  been  some 

white  people  giving  some  weapons  to  some  brown-skinned 

people  to  kill  each  other.   The  white  people  are  trying  to 

do  it  themselves,  because  they  started  the  whole  problem 

in  Somalia  anyway  when  it  was  a  struggle  between  the 

United  States  and  Russia  over  who  would  control  the  horn 

of  Africa. 

MASON:   Yeah.   And  then  they  make  it  seem  like,  "Oh,  these 

poor  Africans  are  too  stupid  to  know  how  to  take  care  of 

themselves."   Even  though  they  were  the  first  people  on 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I  know. 


MASON:   You  know,  it's  pretty  ridiculous. 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I  know.   Well,  at  least  they're  finally 
having  to  help.   I  guess,  because  they  sent  help  to  Bosnia 
and  all  that,  they  have  to  give  some  help  to  Somalia. 
RIDDLE:   They  don't  realize--and  I  think  this  is  the  role 
of  the  social  artist  whether  he's  black  or  white--that 
there's  just  enough  resources  on  the  planet  to  take  care 
of  the  problems  of  the  planet.   Because  there's  very 
little  difference  between  bragging  about  Saddam  Hussein 
didn't  have  electricity,  the  kids  didn't  have  milk,  the 
people  didn't  have  shelter,  they  didn't  have  water,  they 
didn't  have  this--  There's  no  difference  between  that  and 
Hurricane  Andrew  going  through  south  Florida.   It's  the 
same  fact.   When  Bush  started  [Operation]  Desert  Storm  and 
they  said  they  killed  x  number  of  Iraqis,  at  the  same  time 
there  was  a  monsoon  that  went  through  some  place  over 
there  in  India  and  killed  the  exact  same  amount  of  people. 
One  was  man-made,  one  was  natural.   And  there's  just 
enough  resources  to  take  care  of  what ' s  here  without  the 
need  for  implements  of  war  and  all  this  waste  and  all 

I  always  tell  Carmen,  "Art  is  the  prison."   The 
criminal  justice  system  in  America  is  the  last  vestige  of 
slavery  in  the  black  community,  and  how  much  money  does 
the  total  criminal  justice  system  make  in  America?   I 


mean,  from  the  judges,  lawyers,  all  legitimate  people-- 
nothing  wrong  with  them--the  police,  planners,  architects, 
builders  of  the  penitentiaries,  the  people  who  supply  the 
stuff.   Now,  we  need  places  to  keep  these  prisoners, 
because  we  raise  some  bad-thinking  people.   But  if  there 
was  peace  tomorrow,  we'd  have  troubled  times,  like  we're 
having  right  now,  because  there's  less  need  for  war.   But 
if  there  was  the  cessation  of  crime  tomorrow,  the 
insurance  companies  who  get  to  sell  two  cars  or  two  TVs, 
the  brokers  who  get  their  commissions--  You  think  about 
every  legitimate,  honest,  upstanding  citizen  who  makes 
money  off  the  fact  that  people  do  crime,  if  they  all  lost 
their  jobs.   See,  we  need  crime.   That's  why  crack  can 
come  in . 

I  saw  Bush  say  he's  going  to  rebuild  Homestead.   But 
when  they  caught  [Eugene]  Hasenfus  in  that  drug  arms 
plane,  when  they  shot  it  down  in  Nicaragua  and  they  let 
him  out,  and  he  said,  "Yeah,  we  take  arms  to  Nicaragua  for 
the  Contras,  but  we  don't  believe  in  coming  back  with 
empty  planes,  so  we  bring  cocaine  back  from  Hall's  Ranch 
in  Costa  Rica."   And  I  saw  one  night  on  TV  infrared 
cameras  showed  the  plane  land  at  Homestead  Air  Force  Base, 
go  through  a  remote  part  of  the  runway.   They  offloaded  it 
into  some  trucks  that  said  "Ramiro's  Seafood  Wholesalers" 
or  something,  and  the  truck  drove  right  off  the  base.   I 


mean,  the  American  government  is  involved  in  drug 
smuggling.   It's  big  business.   It  helps  suppress  black 
anger  about  what ' s  going  on  in  the  community  and  in  the 
country  by  turning  black  on  black.   Put  all  these  vicious 
fools  out  there  killing  each  other  and  stealing  your 
goods  and  making  you  ashamed  of  black  people,  making  you 
hate  black  people,  making  you  not  come  together  as  a 
community.   It's  all  planned.   They  couldn't  just  say, 
"Oh,  this  is  just  some  coincidence."   That's  just  a 
diabolical  plan  where  crackers  make  money  and  we 
eliminate  ourselves  and  they  know  it.   And  we're  stupid 
enough  to  be  involved  in  it.   But  if  somebody's  not  doing 
something  against  it  to  pull  people's  coats,  maybe  art 
isn't  strong  enough. 

You  said  Super fly.   I  mean,  the  most  black  folk  got 
out  of  Superf ly  that  I  noticed  was  they  were  wearing 
cocaine  spoons  on  chains  and  guys  were  buying  those  hats 
with  hair  hanging  down  in  the  back  so  they  could  look 
like  Ron  O.  Neal .   Now,  to  me,  it's  one  of  my  favorite 
movies  because  it's  full  of  symbolism  from  start  to 
MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   But  black  people  that  I  talk  to,  a  lot  of  them 
didn't  see  that  symbolism.   Maybe  because  I  deal  in 
symbology  as  an  artist,  from  the  beginning  to  the  end,  I 


saw  nothing  but  symbols.   But  a  lot  of  people 
misinterpreted.   A  lot  of  people  saw  that  as  a  sign  to 
escalate  the  cocaine  business  on  every  level.   To  be  hip, 
to  have  chains  with  coke  spoons  around  your  necks,  and  to 
go  off  and  say,  "What's  happenin?"  and  be  cool.   I  mean, 
they  got  all  the  wrong--  All  the  front  people  saw  it  as  a 
way  to  have  a  new  front  game,  the  cocaine  trade. 
MASON:   Yeah.   Was  the  drug  culture  part  of  the  black 


SEPTEMBER  5,  1992 

MASON:   Okay.   I  guess,  we  were  talking  about  the  drug 

culture.   And  you  were  saying- - 

RIDDLE:   Like  I  said,  amongst  the  artists  that  Carmen  and 

I  have  been  speaking  of,  none  of  them  were--  I  can't  say 

that  either.   As  the  movement  of  black  artists  grew,  there 

were  a  couple  of  guys  that  I  can't--  One  of  the  guys' 

names  almost  came  to  my  head,  but-- 

MASON:   You  don't  have  to  name  any  names. 

RIDDLE:   No,  but  I'm  just  saying,  there  were  a  couple  of 

people  who-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   But  I  remember  going  to  that  party.   You 

know,  the  Bohanon  party? 

RIDDLE:   Mm-hmm. 

MASON:   Oh,  Gloria  Bohanon? 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Uh-huh. 

RIDDLE:   And  George. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And  her  husband  was  a  musician.   He  had  a 

lot  of  musicians  there.   And  I  remember  some  of  them  were 

taking  drugs,  and  the  artists  said,  "Uh-oh,  we'd  better 

get  out  of  here." 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  I  remember  one  time  I  was  looking  for  all 

of  my  friends  and  they  had  disappeared.   That  always  was  a 


sign  that  you  were  missing  something  if  you  went  to  a 
party  and  all  your  friends  disappeared.   I  mean,  that  went 
back  to  teenage  times.   So  I  went  looking  for  them,  and 
they  were  all  out  in  the  front  on  Gloria's  wall  in  front 
of  her  house.   There  was  about  ten  people  there.   And  I 
saw  Dan  [Concholar] ,  so  I  went  and  sat  next  to  Dan.   The 
funniest  thing--  The  people  who  were  out  there,  they 
weren' t--like  Carmen  said--artists,  but  they  were  at  the 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Musicians  and  Hollywood  types. 
RIDDLE:   Yeah,  and  they  were  snorting  cocaine.   What  they 
had  was  a  dollar  bill,  or  some  kind  of  bill,  with  cocaine 
on  it  and  they  had  another  dollar  bill  rolled  up.   They 
were  passing  it  down  this  row  of  people  and  it  got  to  Dan. 
And  there  was  a  guy  sitting  next  to  me  too.   And  it  got  to 
Dan,  and  I  heard  him  say,  "Here,  man. "   And  Dan 
said--he  would  always  talk  so  cool-- "No  thanks,  man. 
That's  too  heavy  for  me."   And  I  thought  that  I  would  fall 
out  laughing,  boy.   But  that  was  basically  how  the  artists 
were . 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  would  take  a  bottle  of  wine  around. 
RIDDLE:   Kept  some  paisano's  cheap  wine.   A  half  gallon. 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Paisano.   Just  drink  wine  and  talk.   And 
they  really  didn't  need  drugs. 
RIDDLE:   They  might  smoke  some  pot,  but  they  didn't  do 


heavy  drugs. 

Now,  there  was  a  couple  of  artists  later  that  were 
really  good  artists,  but  they  drifted  in  and  out  because 
they  were  using  heroin.   I  just  remember  that  we  had  a 
show  at  UCLA  one  time,  and  two  of  the  guys  in  that  show 
were  really  good  artists.   One  of  them  was  a  pure  heroin 
junkie.   I  mean,  he  was  one  of  those  nodding-out  junkies. 
He  was  one  of  the  people  who  said  one  time  at  one  of  the 
things  at  Brockman  [Gallery]  that  the--  How  do  you  phrase 
it?   It  was  about  the  loss  of  human  potential.   The  wasted 
human  potential.   It  was  the  first  time  I  heard  it  said 
that  poetically,  about  how  all  these  black  people  never 
got  a  chance  to  be  what  they  could  have  been,  or  should 
have  been,  were  just  cast  off  as  wasted  potential  because 
their  skin  color  was  wrong.   I  mean,  those  are  the  basic 
tenets  of  racism  that  you  just  disregard  people  because  of 
what  they  look  like. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh,  I  thought  you  meant  because  they  were 
taking  drugs. 

RIDDLE:  No.  But  I  mean,  that's  a  phase  of  the  waste  that 
takes  place  when  people  don't  get  a  chance  to  explore  what 
they  should  really  be  about. 

MASON:   You  think  of  people  like  Charlie  Parker  maybe  who 
were  not  necessarily  interested  in  drugs  as,  like, 
consciousness  expanding.   It  was  more  of  an  escape,  I 



CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Plus  the  life  they  led.   They  had  to  go 

from  town  to  town.   In  those  days,  those  musicians  were 

like  that.   They  had  to  see  different  people  every  night. 

It  was  just  a  hard  life. 

RIDDLE:   It  was  an  acceptable  part  of  the  behavior  of 

musicians  of  that  era,  because  most  of  them  were  junkies. 

I  mean,  if  you  look  at  Miles  Davis's  autobiography  and  he 

talks  about  different  bands  he  had  with  Sonny  Rollins  and 

one  of  the  Heath  brothers,  all  of  them  were  junkies. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   All  of  them  were  junkies. 

RIDDLE:   And  when  they  took  their  break,  that's  what  they 

did--go  out  and  shoot  up.   You  know,  there  was  a  lot  of 

pressure  to  be  a  drug  addict  if  you  were  playing  every 

night  live  jazz  in  the  bebop  era.   That  was  just  part  of 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I  think  of  all  of  the  artistic  things, 

that  visual  artists  have  this  less.   He's  probably  less  of 

a  drug  addict  than  a  writer.   They  say  most  writers  have  a 

tendency  to  be  alcoholics  because  it's  a  very  lonely 

thing.   But  for  some  reason,  the  visual  artists,  the  ones 

that  I've  met,  were  not  into  drugs. 

RIDDLE:   I've  known  very  few  that  were  into  cocaine.   Not 

an  exception  was  [Herman]  "Kofi"  Bailey,  because  he  was  a 

death-wish  artist. 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh,  he  was  an  alcoholic  for  the  most  part. 

RIDDLE:   Pills  and  alcohol.   I  mean,  he'd  drop  pills  and 

then  he'd  drink. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   But  a  genius,  a  pure  genius  at  his  art. 

RIDDLE:   When  he  had  money,  he  always  had  a  full  pint  of 

scotch  and  one  that  was  almost  empty,  or  it  might  have 

been  vodka  he  drank. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   But  I  think  he  would  have  been  anyway.   He 

had  so  many  problems  at  Spelman  [College] . 

MASON:   I  understand,  though,  that  he  taught  Emory 


RIDDLE:   He  was  at  Spelman  for  a  while. 

MASON:   Oh,  okay. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  put  him  off  the  campus  in  his  later 

days  because  he  was  harassing-- 

RIDDLE:   Everybody. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   --the  girls  at  the  place.   They  had  to 

tell  him  not  to  come  back  to  the  campus,  and  then  when  he 

died,  they  gave  him  a  eulogy. 

RIDDLE:   He  used  to  come  over  here  and  drink  and  sit  out. 

But  at  the  end,  he  was  incoherent.   And  when  I  first  met 

him,  he  was  incoherent.   He  was  in  Claude  Booker's  car 

that  night. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   But  he  could  really--  Boy,  he  was  a  great 



RIDDLE:   Dropped  pills  at  ten  in  the  morning  and  was 

drinking  by  ten  thirty. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Great  artist. 

RIDDLE:   I  could  tell  he  was  the  kind  of  person  who  was 

trying  to  kill  himself  for  whatever  reason. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   But  all  the  others — Jacob  Lawrence,  Charles 

[E.]  White,  Romare  Bearden--I  don't  think  of  them  as  being 

abusers  of  any  kind  of  intoxicants,  really.   Do  you? 

RIDDLE:   A  good  example  is  Bill. 


RIDDLE:   I  mean.  Bill  Pajaud.   He  told  me  as  recently  as 

yesterday--  We  were  talking  about  those  Saturday 

excursions  we  used  to  go  on.   He  said,  "John,  if  it  hadn't 

been  for  those,  I'd  probably  just  be  an  old  drunk  now, 

because  all  I  did  was  drink."   And  when  he  started  doing 

art,  he  put  his  bottle  aside  and  started-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   It's  therapy. 

RIDDLE:   He'd  take  up  that  therapy  instead  of  the  negative 

escapism.   See,  they've  both  got  escapism,  but  one's 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I  don't  know  if  you've  heard  of  Benny 


MASON:   Yeah,  he ' s  a  New  York  artist. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Well,  no.   He ' s  a  Georgia  artist,  but  he 

lives  in  New  York.   They're  so  proud  of  him  here  because 


he  came  from  south  Georgia. 

RIDDLE:   They  had  an  article  in  the  paper  about  him  the 

other  day. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  was  a--  What  do  you  call  [a  person] 

that  works  in  the  field? 

RIDDLE:   A  sharecropper. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   A  sharecropper,  yeah. 

RIDDLE:   He  and  his  brother  are  artists. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   His  brother  just  died. 

RIDDLE:   His  brother  just  died. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   His  brother's  a  writer. 

RIDDLE:   But  I'll  tell  you  the  difference  between  artists 

here  when  I  first  moved  here.   These  artists  were  so 

selfish,  for  the  most  part,  so  into  themselves,  that  they 

could  never  form  an  arts  association.   They  tried.   It  was 

the  Black  Artists  of  Atlanta,  another  BAAism.   They  tried, 

but  it  was  never  like  with  Alonzo  and  them.   It  was  like 

other  things . 

MASON:   What  were  they  competing  for? 

RIDDLE:   On  the  social  level  more  than  as  artists. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Yeah,  because,  you  see,  it's  the  South. 

RIDDLE:   Don't  share  your  knowledge  with  other  artists, 

because  they  might  be  able  to  do  as  well  as  you  in  your 

field.   I  mean,  all  that.   Shoot,  Lev  Mills  was  the 

classic.   I  asked  him  to  show  me  how  to  silk-screen,  and 


he  said,  "I  don't  have  time  to  show  you  how  to  silk- 
screen."   So  I  went  and  learned  it  somewhere  else.   But  if 
somebody  had  asked  me  and  I  had  the  knowledge,  I  would 
have  said,  "Yeah,  come  on  by  and  the  next  time  I  screen, 
I'll  let  you  sit  in  and  you  can  check  it  out."   But  it 
wasn't  that,  and  it  wasn't  like--  They  lived  better.   They 
had  nicer  houses  here  and  they  had  wall-to-wall  carpet. 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  didn't  believe  in  the  artistic  life. 
RIDDLE:   They  didn't  drink  wine  and  sit  on  the  floor. 

RIDDLE:   And  they  didn't  talk  about  anything,  and  it  was 

MASON:   Did  they  have  full-time  jobs  and  then  paint?   Is 

RIDDLE:   Yeah. 

MASON:   I  see.   Were  they  getting  exposure  in  galleries  or 
anything?   Or  crafts?   Or  anything? 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  to  an  extent.   I  mean,  they  were  doing  as 
well  as  any-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   It's  just  their  lifestyle's  completely 
different  from  the  artists  on  the  West  Coast. 
RIDDLE:   It  was  more  cliquish. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Because  on  the  West  Coast,  you're  admired 
for  being  different  and  being  an  artist.   Coming  so  close 


to  Hollywood,  I  think,  too,  that  has  a  lot  to  do  with  it. 
You're  given  respect  for  art.   Whereas  back  here,  they're 
closer  to  slavery,  and  the  main  thing  is  to  get  away  from 
anything  that  isn't  academic.   I  mean,  what  they  consider 
academic--  Like  we  are  here  with  all  the  black  colleges, 
and  so  they  want  to--  The  social  academic  life  is  more-- 
RIDDLE:   They  would  spend  $3,000  on  some  outfits  for  an 
art  soiree  and  then  get  to  the  soiree  and  see  $500  on  the 
art  and  say,  "Oh,  I  can't  pay  that  much  for  that."   But 
they  would  pay  $500  for  a  dress  or  a  suit  to  go  to  the 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   It's  just  a  different  way  of  thinking. 
RIDDLE:   And  plus  Los  Angeles  is  a  pace-setting  place. 
California.   California  sets  trends.   I  heard  somebody  the 
other  day  say--  They  were  talking  about  Proposition  13  and 
how  it's  devastated  California's  tax  base.   "They  need  to 
help  parts  of  the  problem  they  got  right  now."   And  the 
guy  said,  "But  you'd  better  watch  out,  because  it  started 
in  California.   And  things  like  that,  that  start  in 
California,  have  a  tendency  to  cross  the  United  States." 

So  I  think  we  were  beneficiaries  of  a  much  higher 
energy  place  than  this.   Because  I  came  here  and  I  had  so 
much  energy,  and  then  we  used  to  talk  about  our  batteries 
would  start  running  down.   And  you  really  need  to  go 
somewhere  else  to  recharge. 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And  our  kids,  coming  from  California,  it 
was  good  for  them,  because  they  picked  up  the  academic 
part  here.   And  I  think  you  can  always  go  back  to 
California  and  have  fun. 
MASON:   The  lifestyle. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Have  fun.   But  they  picked  up--  Like  they 
all  got  scholarships  and  became  different  things,  a  lawyer 
and  all  that  kind  of  stuff.   So  they  got  that  part  from 
here,  and  they  could  always  return  to  California,  although 
they  haven't.   But  the  California  lifestyle  is  so  laid- 
back.   And  our  oldest  child  was  a  beachcomber,  Tony 
[Anthony  Thomas  Riddle] . 
RIDDLE:   With  dreds. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   With  dredlocks.   And  then  when  he  got 
here,  he  changed  and  became  a  more  responsible  person. 
And  now  he  runs  a  cable  station  in  Minneapolis,  which  is-- 
I  mean,  you  know,  it  didn't  take  away  from  his  artistic 
part;  it's  just  that  he  can  make  money  now. 
MASON:   He  was  doing  assemblages? 
RIDDLE:   Jewelry. 
MASON:   Jewelry. 

RIDDLE:   He's  always  been  like--  He  used  to  be  a  street 
merchant.   He'd  make  jewelry  and  sell  it.   But  now-- 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Well,  that  was  in  California. 
RIDDLE:   Now  he  says  that  that  was  the  hardest  time  in  his 



CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  hated  it.   He  said,  "I  hated  it." 

RIDDLE:   He  said  he  may  never  make  jewelry  again. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  used  to  make  us  think  that  was  what  he 

wanted  to  do.   But  that  was  the  California  part  of  him, 

and  now  he's  a  very  responsible  person.   He's  still 

artistic,  but  he's  doing  something  else.   You  know,  he's  a 

computer  type  of  person  and  he's  making  money  with  it. 

MASON:   We  were  talking  about  being  afraid  of  New  York 

earlier.   What  did  you  mean  by  that? 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   We  have  a  daughter  in  New  York. 

RIDDLE:   Well,  only  that--  I  mean,  at  the  time  it  was  '58, 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh,  you  mean  for  art? 

MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   I  had  been  out  of  the  service  two  years,  had  at 

least  two  kids  [Anthony  Thomas  Riddle  and  Deborah  Lynn 

Riddle] .   And  New  York  was  like  a  big  unknown.   I  had 

never  been  out  of  California  east,  not  really.   And  all  of 

a  sudden  to  pack  up  your  whole  family  and  just  head  for 

the  great  unknown  that  was  New  York  just  seemed  a  somewhat 

scary  proposition.   Whereas,  it  turned  out  that  by  '73,  we 

did  exactly  that.   We  sold  everything  that  we  had — house, 

cars- -gave  away  what  we  couldn't  sell,  packed  up  four 

daughters  [Deborah  Lynn,  Shawn  Denise,  Pamela  Ann,  and 


Spring  Robin  Riddle],  and  headed  for  Trinidad.   The 

weirdest  thing  of  all,  after  making  that  long  flight  down 

there--  We  got  to  the  airport  and  the  airport  was  like  a 

bustling  airport,  exciting.   A  half  hour  later  we're  the 

only  people  in  the  airport,  sitting  on  our  luggage.   The 

place  was  a  ghost  town.   It's  eleven  thirty  at  night.   We 

didn't  know  that  those  airports  are  only  hustle-bustle 

when  the  plane  of  the  day  comes  in. 

MASON :   Yeah . 

RIDDLE:   And  then  people  came  up  and  said  in  this  funny 

kind  of  language  we  had  never  heard  at  all--English  was 

almost  a  foreign  language-- "Can  we  help  you?" 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  were  checking  us  out,  because  they 

couldn't  understand  why  we  were  there. 

RIDDLE:   [imitates  an  unintelligible  language]   And  we 

were  like,  "Jesus  Christ,  what's  happening?"   Here  we  are 

these  six  strangers  stranded  in  the  middle  of  nowhere,  six 

thousand  miles,  twice  as  far  as  New  York  from  home,  don't 

know  a  soul,  can't  understand  what  these  people  were 


MASON :   Yeah . 

RIDDLE:   So  we  ended  up  doing  the  same.   Maybe  we  would 

have  been  better  off  to  go  to  New  York  with  Danny  [Daniel 

LaRue  Johnson] . 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   We  stayed  there  a  while,  and  then  we  came 



MASON:   What  did  you  do  in  Trinidad? 

RIDDLE:   Nothing. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   We  lived  in  this  beautiful  house  on  a 


RIDDLE:   Overlooking-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   We  went  to  the  carnival.   It  was  in 


RIDDLE:   Right  next  door  to  the  Mighty  Sparrow,  the 

favorite  musician  of  carnival,  selected  each  February.   We 

always  liked  that. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   We  had  a  good  time,  and  the  people  were 

real  friendly,  real  friendly. 

RIDDLE:   Now,  if  we  had  been  con  people,  we  could  have 

been  rich  today.   Because  everybody  saw  this  family  of 

four  daughters,  and  we  had  no  visible  means  of  support,  so 

they  figured  we  had  great  wealth.   We  always  had  people 

inviting  us  to  these  nice  cocktail  parties  in  backyards 

with  wealthy  people  and  bankers.   "These  are  the  Riddles. 

They  just  got  here  from  California."   And  everybody's  all 

jumping  all  over  you  and  wanting  us  to  invest  money,  open 

accounts  in  banks,  and  we  ain't  got  quarters.   But,  I 

mean,  if  we  had  been  slick  con  people  with  a  plan,  we 

might  have  been  able  to  pull  something  off. 

MASON:   Did  you  make  any  art  out  of  that  experience  or 


during  that  time? 

RIDDLE:   No,  I  just  read.   It  turned  out  to  be  like  a  long 

vacation.   I  read  books,  and  we  sat  on  our  porch  all  day. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   We  went  to  the  carnival  at  night. 

RIDDLE:   Went  to  carnival  at  night. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   It  was  amazing  because  those  people  danced 

through  the  streets,  and  you'd  hear  the  music  in  all  the 

taxis,  everywhere. 

RIDDLE:   Uh-huh,  it  was  great. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Everybody  just  dancing  through.   Did  you 

ever  see  Black  Orpheus? 

MASON:   No. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh,  gosh.   You  should  look  at  that.   It's 

a  great  movie.   It's  about  the  carnival  in  Rio. 

MASON:   I  see. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   The  same  thing. 

RIDDLE:   It  was  carnival  and  you  went  to  "jump-ups"  every 

night.   And  one  night-- 

MASON:   What  is  that? 

RIDDLE:   That's  like  what  they  call  a  party. 

MASON:   Oh. 

RIDDLE:   And  you  go  and  you  jump  up  and  down.   And  we  let 

our  kids  go  to  the  beach.   We  always  laugh  now  when 

someone  says,  "Where  are  your  daughters?"   She'd  say,  "Oh, 

they  went  to  the  beach."   "They  went  to  the  beach? 


Alone?"   Like  nobody  ever  went  to  the  beach  alone. 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Then  we  started  getting  scared.   We  said, 
"Oh,  my  god!" 

RIDDLE:   "Our  kids  are  gone  forever  I"   But  it  was  an 
interesting  experience. 

And  then  we  came  back  to  Miami .   And  those  Cubans 
that  left  Castro's  Cuba,  they  want  to  act  more  white  than 
white  people.   So  they  were  worse  racists  than  white 

MASON:   Yeah,  they  were  real  conservative  Republicans. 
RIDDLE:   So  we  stayed  there  about  a  week  and  we  cut  out. 
We  came  here  because  we  heard  this  was  "little  New  York." 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Because  there  was  a  black  mayor  [Maynard 
Jackson] . 

RIDDLE:   It  wasn't  little  New  York. 

MASON:   Yeah.   You  get  the  impression  that  Atlanta  is  a 
black  city,  but  then  you  wonder  how  much  black  people 
really  control  in  terms  of  the  economics. 
RIDDLE:   Yeah,  that's  where  the  breakdowns  come. 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And  what  kind  of  black  people? 
RIDDLE:   Political  power--they  control  it.   But  in  terms 
of  economics,  it's  no  contest.   That's  why  at  the 
beginning  when  we  were  talking  about  Billy  Paine  and 
Maynard  and  them--  I  mean,  those  people  just  took  the 


Olympic's  money  and  the  Olympic's  operation  and  said,  "No. 

You  got  us  the  city.   Now  get  out  of  the  way.   We're  gonna 

run  it. " 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  Still  don't  got  the  [inaudible]. 

RIDDLE:   They  said  that  in  the  papers,  too. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  did?   Today? 

RIDDLE:   Not  about  the  [inaudible].   But  that  they  told 

the  commissioner,  Michael  Lomax,  who's  an  exponent  of 

cultural  arts  and  things  here--  In  fact,  he's  the 

spearhead  behind  the  National  Black  Arts  Festival.   And 

they  told  him-- 

MASON:   He  isn't  related  to  the  Los  Angeles  Lomax? 

RIDDLE:   Same  people. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Uh-huh. 

RIDDLE:   They  used  to  live  right  there  on  Cimarron 

[Street]  and  Adams  [Boulevard]  when  I  was  growing  up. 

Melanie  [Lomax] ,  and  Wilhemina  [Lomax] ,  the  woman  who  sued 

the  [Los  Angeles]  Times  for  the  job,  because  she  was  a 

reporter--  They  had  that  newspaper--  What's  that  paper? 

The  Sentinel? 


RIDDLE:   The  Atlanta--  The  L.A.  what?   Wasn't  that  the 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   The  Sentinel  or  the  [California]  Eagle. 

But  that  wasn't  what  they  were-- 


RIDDLE:   But  she  had  a  black  newspaper. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  refused  to  hire  her  at  the  Times. 

RIDDLE:   As  a  reporter. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I  wonder  if  Melanie  ever  became  a  lawyer. 

RIDDLE:   She  got  eleven  years'  back  pay. 

MASON :   Wow ! 

RIDDLE:   Plus  the  job. 

MASON :   Wow ! 

RIDDLE:   So,  yeah.   Michael's  one  of  them.   There's  about 

five  kids. 

MASON:   I'm  still  not  sure  who  controls  the  Olympics  now. 

Is  it  a  big  corporation  or--? 

RIDDLE:   White  people. 

MASON:   Or  is  it  a  corporate  interest? 

RIDDLE:   Well,  it's  called  the  Atlantic  Committee  for  the 

Olympic  Games,  ACOG.   It's  under  the  control  of  white 

people.   There's  some  black  token  people,  but  the  white 

people  make  all  the  decisions.   You  know,  anytime  it's-- 

Like  my  father  said,  "Whenever  there's  a  pile  of  money, 

Johnny,  there's  always  gonna  be  some  criminals  around." 

And  you're  looking  at  the  kind  of  money  L.A.  Olympics  was 

supposed  to  have  generated,  in  the  billions  and  billions. 

You  probably  have  people  who  just  follow  Olympics  all 

around  the  world,  and  every  four  years  they  get  a  cut  of 

the  pie.   It  wouldn't  be  unreasonable,  because  there's  a 


lot  of  expertise  in  Atlanta  now--with  the  Olympic  Games  in 
Los  Angeles  that  came  here  directly  from  Barcelona.   So 
you've  got  that  group  of  people.   Then  you've  got  people 
who  right  now,  like  we're  doing  this  interview,  they're 
sitting  up  talking,  cutting  deals  on  their  share  of  the 
pie  and  their  middleman  fee  and  their  commission  for 
hooking  up  deals  and  all  that.   So  by  the  time  the  people 
find  out  two  weeks  before  the  Olympics,  they'll  be  going 
around,  "Where's  my  part?"   And  there  ain't  nothing.   You 
can't  even  get  a  ticket  then. 

MASON:   Yeah.   And  so  there's  no  organization  that  will 
make  black  people  more  aware  of  what ' s  happening?    , 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Well,  that's  what  the  mayor  is  trying  to 
do  and  everything.   You  know,  they're  trying. 
RIDDLE:   That's  why  he  don't  have  no  power.   They  left  him 
outside.   They  told  him  they  couldn't  do  nothing.   They 
told  Michael-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   The  city  council  tries.   They're  all  in 
there  trying.   But  the  thing  is--  What  they  do  is,  like 
with  the  city  council  trying,  they  hire  the  city  council 
president's  sister  and  wife  and  all  that  so  that  they're-- 
They  say,  "Okay."   You  know,  they  can  be  bought,  too.   So 
it's  all  kind  of  crafty.   Not  that  bad,  though.   We  make 
it  sound  so  horrible. 
RIDDLE:   Well,  actually,  it  makes  me  mad,  because  I  can 


see  that  if  you're  not  like  an  aggressive  hustler-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   It's  probably  like  that  in  any  city. 

RIDDLE:   Like  right  on.   You  quit  your  other  job  and  your 

full-time  job  is  to  be  in  these  Olympics  making  some 

dough.   If  you  don't  take  it  as  that  kind  of  an  approach, 

there ' s  not  anything  for  you .   And  the  other  people  feel 

like,  "Well,  I'll  just  sit  back  here  and  benefit." 

Suppose  I  was  an  artist  who  wanted  to  do  some  Olympic  T- 

shirts  or  posters  or--  Because  it's  all  for  this  giant 

influx  of  people.   Well,  they're  going  to  arrest  you. 

They're  going  to  run  you  off  the  streets.   They're  going 

to  tell  you  you  can't  do  this  because  you're  not 

authorized  to  make  money  off  of  the  Olympics.   Only  the 

"in"  people  can  make  money  off  the  Olympics.   You  know, 

this  is  supposed  to  be  the  land  of  free  entrepreneurship. 

You  know,  creating  business. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Well,  you're  getting  to  do  something  in 


RIDDLE:   Yeah,  but  I  mean  that's  only  because  I  knew 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I  know.   [laughter] 

RIDDLE:   What  about  the  guy  who's  a  better  artist  than  me 

and  would  be  much  more  enthusiastic  than  I've  been  to  this 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Thank  goodness  you  knew  somebody. 


RIDDLE:   --who  don't  know  nobody.   He  don't  have  a  chance. 

CAP?MEN  RIDDLE:   It's  always  the  way. 

RIDDLE:   That's  not--  It  doesn't  make  it  right. 

MASON:   What  kind  of  people  do  like  you?   Black  people, 

are  they  interested?   Does  anybody  do  assemblage,  for 

example?   Or  mostly  painters?   Or--? 


MASON:   Yeah,  in  Atlanta? 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   In  Atlanta.   I  guess  they  have  everybody. 

RIDDLE:   Well,  I  could  tell  you  more  painters  than  other 

things.   But  I  think  that's  probably  true  most  anywhere, 

that  there ' s  probably  more  painters  than  printmakers  and 

sculptors.   There's  probably  an  equal  amount  of 

craftspeople  if  you  add  them  all  up  together,  the  weavers 

and  the  potters  and--  But  I  don't  really  know,  because 

I've  kind  of  dropped  out  of  the  art  activity--!  mean,  like 

the  social  activities,  going  to  shows. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  does  go  to  shows  every  once  in  a  while. 

RIDDLE:   Although  when  I  go,  I  like  them.   But  I  don't 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   No,  we  get  about  three  or  four  art 

invitations  a  day  for  different  stuff,  but  we  just  never 

go.   We  never  go. 

RIDDLE:   I  haven't  even  been  going  to  my  own  art  shows 

lately.   I  go  opening  night  because  you've  got  to  show  up, 


but  I  never  go  back.   I  go  back  and  take  it  off  the  wall 
when  the  show  is  over. 

MASON:   You  seem  tired,  so  we  can  take  a  break  here  then 
and  finish  up.  [tape  recorder  off] 

MASON:   Let's  see.   We  talked  a  little  about  your 
paintings,  and  I  was  just  wondering  how--  Well,  in  this 
press  release,  it  says  you're  interested  in--  Let's  see, 
"recently  lectured  at  the  Los  Angeles  County  Museum  [of 
Art]  on  the  current  phenomenon  of  black  art  as  related  to 
great  social  protest  artists  of  the  past."   Some  of  the 
colors  and  the  structures  of  the  things  that  you  use  in 
the  paintings  seem--  I  mean,  because  it  kind  of  reminds  me 
of  Jacob  Lawrence  in  some  ways.   Was  that  something  that 
you  were  trying  to  look  at  and  then  build  on?   Did  you 
study  with  Charles  White  or  anything  like  that? 
RIDDLE:   Well,  I  knew  Charles  and  I  taught  some  of  his 
classes  at  Otis  [Parson  Art  Institute]  when  he  was  on  a 
sabbatical  for  gifted  black  students.   That  was  a  program 
sponsored  by  Golden  State  [Mutual]  Life  Insurance 
[Company] .   But  I  think  it  was  like  the  critics  used  to 
say,  when  blacks  were  emerging  on  the  American  art  scene 
in  a  more  prominent,  conflicting  way.   They  used  to  always 
say  that  the  black  art  used  bold,  primary  colors.   And  I 
think  that's  just  something  that  Jacob  Lawrence  plugged 
into  along  the  way,  just  like  myself  or  Varnette 


[Honeywood]  or  a  lot  of  the  black  artists  now  use  bold 

I  know  AFRI-COBRA's  bold  colors  were  African  designs 
or  motifs,  like  triangles  and  repeat  patterns  and  things. 
But  I  just  think  the  bold  color  is  as  much  a  part  of  black 
as--  Well,  they  used  to  complain  that  why  did  blacks  dress 
boldly  and  wear  jewelry.   They  used  to  call  it  gaudy 
dress.   Now  you  look  and  everybody  that's  hip  has  open 
collars  and  gaudy  dress,  even  today  where  the  colors  that 
people  wear  on  the  street  in  their  sport  clothes  are 
outlandishly  colorful.   There  is  just  blatant  color  now  in 
today's  fashion.   So  I  just  think  that  it's  something 
that's  characteristic  of  the  African  artists.   If  you  look 
at  the  modern  African  artists,  they  use  a  lot  of  bold 
color  and  primary  and  secondary  colors  without  a  lot  of 
tint  and  hue  in  them.   I  just  think  it's  part  of  the 
argument  that  we  used  to  espouse:   "Is  there  or  is  there 
not  black  art?"   And  I  think  there  are  certain 
characteristics  that  black  artists  used  that  do  make  up  a 
black  art. 

^4AS0N:   I  was  just  thinking  of  trying  to  find  a  painting 
that  you  have.   Yeah,  this  one:   "Untitled  1967."   In  the 
middle  it's  got  a  photograph  of  a  family;  it  looks  like 
one  of  these  WPA  [Works  Progress  Administration] 
photographs  of  the  1930s. 


RIDDLE:   Oh,  I  remember  that  piece.   It  wasn't  really 
untitled.   It  is  a  part  of  the  collection  of  Jackie  and  Al 
Ryan  of  Los  Angeles.   It  was  called  The  Olympic  Stand,  and 
it's  the  1972  Olympic  Games  when--  I  can't  think  of  these 
two  guys'  names  anymore  that  make  up  the  border  of  this 
piece.   But  it  was  Williams  and  another  black  who  were  on 
the  victory  stand,  but  they  weren't  standing  at  attention 
when  they  played  the  national  anthem.   They  were  standing- - 
I  remember  it  said  in  Life  magazine,  where  I  took  these 
pictures--with  their  arms  akimbo.   It  was  the  same  Olympics 
that  the  Israeli  wrestling  team  had  been  taken  hostage  by 
the  Palestinians  and  the  showdown  at  the  Munich  airport. 
They  rushed  the  helicopter  and  somebody  in  the  helicopter 
set  off  a  hand  grenade  and  everybody  in  the  helicopter  got 
killed.   And  they  were  very  mad  at  the  Palestinians,  so 
they  took  it  out  on  these  two  brothers  because  they  didn't 
stand  for  the  Olympics  at  attention. 

They  thought  somehow  that  was  some  kind  of  a  Mexico 
City,  [John]  Carlos  and  [Thomas  "Tommie"]  Smith  black  fist 
protest,  which  it  wasn't.   And  they  banned  these  guys  from 
Olympic  competition  for  life.   And  yet  they  didn't  ban  Dave 
Wattle,  who  stood  on  the  victory  stand  with  a  baseball  hat 
on  his  head  and  never  took  his  hat  off,  or  the  little  girl 
who  won  some  swimming  medals  I  saw  on  TV  crying  and  rubbing 
her  eyes  rather  than  stand  at  attention  during  the 


emotionalism  of  the  ceremony.   But  they  picked  these  two 
brothers  off  the  relay  team  and  banned  them  for  life  in  the 

So  inside  the  frame,  I  showed  a  repetition  of  these 
people  with  yokes  around  their  necks  and  their  hands  tied 
behind  their  back  coming  from  across  the  blue  space  that 
was  water  and  ending  up  behind  a  mule  and  plowing  and  also 
picking  cotton.   And  all  these  repetitions  end  up  with  this 
George  [who]  is  sitting  in  front  of  this  bench,  and  all  the 
seats  in  front  of  the  bench  are  black  folk.   And  this  line 
here  from  this  man's  leg  becomes  this  tree,  which  was  a 
famous  lynching  scene  where  they  lynched  two  brothers  at 
the  same  time.   It's  in  all  the  lynching  pictures.   And 
people  are  standing  around,  even  the  little  kids.   It's 
like  a  very  gala  festivity  with  these  two  broken-neck 
brothers  hanging  out  of  this  tree.   And  I  was  noticing  that 
white  people  stand  at  attention  for  things  like  that,  when 
black  folks  are  hanging  out  of  trees. 

I  also  show  here  a  brother  protesting,  like  throwing  a 
rock  or  whatever,  and  he  was  in  a  bull's-eye.   And  then  the 
patrol  of  poverty  and  this  repressed,  suppressed  zone  of 
black  folk  with  the  typical  L.A.  "To  Protect  and  Serve" 
police  car--  And  then  [there  are]  these  very  rigid,  very 
faded  people  that  I  always  used  to  paint  in  a  red,  white, 
and  blue  mixture,  and  mix  it  down  real  pastel  so  you  have 


these  cold  pinks  and  cold  blues  and  cold  whites.   They're 
all  standing  at  attention  looking  at--  Some  of  them  are  at 
attention  looking  at  these  two  brothers  on  the  TV  screen, 
and  also  one  of  them's  in  the  chaise  lounge. 

So,  I  mean,  white  people  don't  stand  up  for  the 
national  anthem  either.   It  was  just  a  case  of  persecution 
to  show  protest  and  placate,  in  my  opinion,  at  that 
particular  time,  our  Jewish  population,  because  they  were 
the  recipients  of  a  very  sad  affair  in  Munich.   And  that's 
what  that  piece  was.   It  definitely  wouldn't  have  been 
untitled  if  I'd--  I  never  use  the  word  "untitled." 
MASON:   Well,  there  are  a  lot  of  mistakes  in  this  catalog 
as  far  as  dates-- 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  that's  what  I  was  saying.   My  titles 
precede--they  always  precede  the  work.   I  think  up  the 
titles  before  I  ever  even  do  the  piece.   Because  I  do  all 
my  pieces  conceptually  in  my  head,  and  then  if  I  decide  I 
don't  want  to  do  them,  then  I  never  do.   Sometimes  I  get 
satisfaction  just  doing  them  in  my  head,  and  they  never 
come  out  to  be-- 
MASON:   Yeah,  conceptual  art. 

RIDDLE:   That  was  a  Watts  riot  piece  right  there. 
MASON:   The  Clubs  Is  Trumps? 

RIDDLE:   Uh-huh.   Because  it  was  a  play  on  black  folks 
playing  bid  whist,  and  the  fact  that  blacks--  We  have  all 


the  spades.   We  have  the  ace  of  spades.   If  you've  ever 
played  whist,  you  know  that  sometimes  you  could  have  a 
heavy-suited  hand.   So  in  this  case,  clubs  is  trumps.   We 
just  happen  to  have  no  clubs.   And  a  deuce  of  clubs  can 
trump  any  spade  in  this  particular  formation  of  hand.   I 
used  mattress  ticking  from  the  prison  mattress  to  show  that 
our  consciousness  was  asleep  to  our  power.   And  the  ace-- 
Sometimes  in  whist  like  that,  the  ace  may  turn  a  book,  the 
king  may  turn  a  book,  if  you're  lucky.   I  mean,  there's 
little  likelihood.   The  queen  was  like  stylish  women;  the 
jacks  were  like  men  in  old-fashioned  clothes.   The  ten  was 
party.   The  nine  was  the  big  ride,  the  front.   The  eight 
was  idleness.   The  seven  was  minimum  wage- -even  though  it 
was  honest  work- -minimum  wage  work.   Six  was  matriarchal 
mother  out  in  the  streets  with  an  umbrella  carrying  home 
the  groceries  and  stuff  when  she  should  be  as  retired  as 
some  of  those  retirees  in  Florida.   The  five  was  a  bad 
diet.   And,  you  know,  the  four  was  chump  change  and  the 
brothers  grumbling  over  chump  change.   And  one  brother  only 
had  one  leg,  to  show  that  that's  how  disabled  we  are  at 
that  level.   The  three  was  the  penitentiary. 

And  the  two  was  a  brother  with  a  dew  rag 
[handkerchief]  that  I  got  out  of  another  Life  magazine  one 
time.   The  snarling  brother  at  the  Watts  riots —  Underneath 
it  said  "Get  whitey."   But  it's  just  here's  the  brother 


that's  powerless,  but  he's  filled  with  anger.   And  to  me, 
going  back  on  DuBois  and  Booker  T.  [Washington]--  See  now, 
DuBois  said  the  "intellectual  tenth,"  you  know,  that 
talented  tenth--  And  Booker  T.  said,  "Train  the  masses  to 
vocational  skill."   And  now  if  you  put  that  brother  with 
them,  you  have  the  perfect  black  scenario.   You've  got  the 
angry,  hostile  black  who's  getting  ready  to  tear  off  his 
shirt  and  give  up  his  life  to  get  whitey.   The 
insurrectionist.   So  then  the  white  people  always  say, 
"Well,  what  do  they  want?   What  do  they  want?   What  do  you 
people  want?" 

Then,  that's  when  DuBois  centers  in  with  the  talented 
tenth  who  negotiate  the  wants.   Then  he  steps  aside,  and 
Booker  T.  comes  in  and  fills  the  positions  with  skilled 
people.   And  then  he  steps  aside  and  the  angry  Mr.  T-type 
brother  jumps  back  out  and  says,  "Raaaaah!"   And  the  crowd 
says,  "Oh,  what  does  he  want?   What  does  he  want?"   And  you 
just  keep  that  scenario  going.   Because  you  see, 
segregation  and  exploitation  are  twenty-four  hours.   They 
work  three  shifts.   And  if  you  don't  work  three  shifts  with 
them,  all  your  gains  are  eroded  in  the  time  that  you're 
resting.   So  that's  what  that  piece  was  about. 
MASON:   The  tire  floating  around.   [refers  to  the  creek 
outside  the  window] 
RIDDLE:   The  debris.   As  long  as  it  doesn't  stop  in  my  part 


of  the  creek. 

MASON:   Okay.   And  then  you  have  the  Statue  of  Liberty 

RIDDLE:   Well,  in  that  particular  case  she  represents  what 
liberty  was  supposed  to  represent,  freedom.   Freedom  and 
liberty  are  supposed  to  be,  in  Western  thinking,  the  top 
values,  the  top  concepts  of  the  individual's  right.   So  I 
equated  [that]  with  the  ace,  which  is  the  top  card  in  the 
deck.   Now,  the  king  was  education,  because  education  is 
very  important.   So  I  equated  important  things  with  the 
highest  two  cards  in  the  deck,  because--  Again,  they  might 
turn.   If  you're  not  lucky,  they're  going  to  run  a  Boston 
on  you. 

Then  I  put  at  the  end  of  the  piece,  at  the  bottom, 
because  I  used  to  play  so  much  whist--  A  lot  of  times  black 
people  would  get  bad  hands  and  they  would  try  to  throw 
their  hands  in  and  say,  "Misdeal,  man!   Reshuffle  the 
cards!"  and  try  to  throw  their  hands  in.   So  I ' m  saying  in 
this  piece,  "We  got  a  misdeal  here,  and  we  need  to 
reshuffle  the  cards  and  shuffle  for  a  better,  stronger  hand 
so  that  we  could  survive." 

MASON:   Yeah.   So  in  taking  things  like  the  Statue  of 
Liberty  or  the  national  anthem,  do  you  feel  that  that's 
what  protest  art  is:   to  take  given  symbols  and  then 
reinvest  them  with  meaning? 


RIDDLE:   Yeah.   Because  there  was  a  guy  named  Willy  Ricks. 
He  didn't  get  credit  in  the  black  power  movement  for  saying 
"Black  Power, "  but  he  was  in  SNCC  [Student  Nonviolent 
Coordinating  Committee]  with  Stokely  Carmichael.   He  was 
living  down  here  when  I  moved  down  here.   And  a  lot  of 
knowledgeable  people  used  to  say,  "You  know,  Willy,  he's 
the  one  who  used  to  say  it."   But  Stokely  Carmichael  was 
there  when  the  mikes  were  there.   He  was  the  one  that  fate 
chose,  according  to  this  scenario  of  history,  to  be  the  one 
to  say  "Black  Power!" 

But  anyway,  I  used  to  talk  to  Willy  all  the  time,  and 
one  time  I  asked  Willy  about  SNCC.   And  I  said,  "Well, 
what's  the  role  of  a  student  in  a  revolution?"   And  he  had 
a  very  clear  answer.   He  said,  "To  articulate  the 
contradiction."   So  therefore,  he  would  say,  you  study  and 
you  learn  and  you  get  this  knowledge  and  then  you're  able 
to  articulate  the  contradictions  between  what ' s  being  put 
on  you  and  how  it  should  be.   So  I  feel  like  in  art  you 
take  those  standard  symbols,  and  you  articulate  the 
contradiction  between  what  that  symbol  is  and  what  it's 
supposed  to  be. 

And  I  fell  in  love  with  the  copy  machine,  because  at 
that  time  I  realized--  The  same  way  I  realized 
sculpturally,  that  you  don't  have  to  create  your  own 
shadows;  the  sculpture  creates  its  own  shadows  by  its 


actual  space  taking.   It's  the  same  with  Xerox.   I  found 
out  I  didn't  have  to  draw  if  I  didn't  want  to.   If  I  saw 
something  that  I  could  make  a  Xerox  copy  of  that  was  better 
than  what  I  could  draw,  that  could  take  me  directly  to  the 
point.   I  would  use  that.   So  that's  how  collage-- 

Now,  I  felt  like  collage  is  an  important  part  of  art. 
I  had  a  teacher  named  Frank  Williams  at  Cal[ifornia]  State 
[University,  Los  Angeles] ,  and  he  was  a--  A  lot  of  people 
didn't  like  him  as  a  teacher.   Some  students  thought  he  was 
too  loose;  some  thought  he  was  too  rigid.   He  was  the  kind 
of  guy--  He  was  a  painter,  but  he  just  liked  technique. 
He'd  give  you  technique,  and  you  could  do  whatever  you 
wanted.   And  he  showed  us  this  method  with  acrylics  of 
painting  matte  medium  on  a  photograph,  seven  or  eight 
coats.   Let  them  dry  and,  in  between  coats,  soak  it  in 
water,  turn  it  upside  down.   You  could  peel  all  the  paper 
off  the  back  and  all  the  ink  would  stick  to  the  medium. 
Where  there  was  no  ink,  you  would  have  transparency.   Where 
there  was  ink  you  would  still  have  the  image.   And  so,  I 
mean,  I  still  do  that, 

I  think  that's  the  greatest  thing  in  the  world,  that  I 
can  take  what  I  call  transparent  films- -what  David  Hammons 
and  I  used  to  call  motionless  film--that  you  could  tell 
stories  in  sequence  but  you  didn't  have  film,  like  in 
moviemaking.   You  had  motionless  film,  because  it  was 


static.   But  [it]  was  still  frame  A,  B,  C,  D,  twenty-three, 
and  there's  the  picture.   So  I  found  by  using  this 
transparency--  Which  I  had  always  wanted  to  paint  ten 
layers  of  transparency  on  top  of  each  other  in  my  art 
anyway.   That  was  one  of  my  early  goals.   But  this  helped 
me  very  well  to  be  able  to  use  technique  to  be  able  to 
create  imagery. 

I  still  feel  that  way,  except  now  I'm  interested  in 
using  large  pieces  of  torn  billboard,  like  when  they  scrape 
off  billboards  to  put  up  new  billboards.   I  go  by  and  ask 
those  guys,  "Can  I  have  that  billboard  stuff?"   And  they 
say,  "Yeah,  I  don't  know  what  you  want  it  for."   You  bring 
it  home  and  you  soak  it  in  your  bathtub.   And  you  might 
have  six  layers,  and  you  don't  know  what's  under  there. 
But  as  the  glue  dissolves,  if  you're  very  careful,  you  can 
separate  the  layers.   And  you  get  very  nice  collages,  kind 
of  like  what  [George]  Braque  and  them  had  to  create,  where 
they  had  parts  of  words  and  parts  of  textures  and  colors 
and  things.   That's  one  of  the  reasons  I  want  to  go  bigger 
in  painting,  so  that  I  can  explore  some  of  those  torn 
fragments  from  the  billboards,  combined  with  black  social 
consciousness  ideas. 


SEPTEMBER  5,  1992 

MASON:   Okay. 

RIDDLE:   Let  me  just  conclude  with  one  other  thought  about 
painting  that  holds  true  for  me  in  most  art  forms.   I'm  an 
experimenter.   I  always  want  to  try  something  new,  because 
that's  where  the  excitement  is.   I  think  if  you  hit  upon 
something  that  everybody  likes,  and  they  say,  "Oh,  that's 
a  perfect  form"  I  can't  just  stay  with  it,  because  it 
becomes  boring.   Even  though  I've  done  it,  I've  got  to 
move  on.   If  somebody  else  comes  along  and  does  it  and 
then  they  get  credit  for  doing  that  same  style,  I  don't 
care  for  two  reasons.   One,  I  didn't  invent  it.   I  just 
evolved  myself  from  the  mass  ideas  of  art  and  expression 
that  are  already  out  there,  and  I'm  going  to  go  to  some 
other  place.   And  I  know  if  somebody  else  sees  something-- 
I  remember  one  time  I  was  doing  something,  and  somebody 
asked  me,  "Well,  how  do  you  do  that?"   And  they  were 
another  artist,  and  I  told  them.   And  I  thought  to  myself 
afterwards,  I  said,  "Well,  if  that  person  is  willing  to  go 
through  what  I  just  went  through  to  get  this  particular 
process,  they're  welcome  to  it."   But  they've  got  to  go 
through —  If  they  want  exactly  what  I  just  did,  they've 
got  to  put  out  these  same  hours.   So  I  explained  it  to  him. 


It  was  like  a  picture  of  Sammy  Davis  [Jr.]  hugging 
[Richard  M. ]  Nixon  in  Miami  at  the  convention.   And  I  had 
to  do  seventy-two  repetitions  of  Sammy  Davis  hugging 
Nixon,  and  I  had  to  scrape  the  paper  off  the  back.   But  I 
had  used  paper  that  was  very  hard  to  get  the  back  off  of. 
In  fact,  I  had  to  steel  wool  it  off.   I  finally  got  my 
seventy-two  images.   And  I  noticed  in  the  process  that  a 
repetition  of  the  same  image  seventy-two  times  in  black 
and  white--it  became  very  lace-like.   It  was  almost  like 
curtains,  because  it  lost  its  single  identity  and  it 
became  a  pattern  of  repeated  identities.   And  it  became 
something  that  I  hadn't  even  thought  of.   I  was  really 
happy  that  that  happened,  but  at  the  same  time  anybody 
else  who  wanted  to  do  that  would  either  have  to  do  it  like 
I  did  it  or  come  up  with  a  better,  quicker  way  to  do  it. 
But  either  way,  if  you  don't  invest,  you  don't  get  the 
return.   And  I  think  that  combined  with  the  fact  that  it's 
boring  if  you  do  something  just  because  people  liked  it. 
To  just  do  it  over  and  over  because  you  could  make  some 
money,  to  me  that's  very  boring. 

MASON:   Okay.   Well,  unless  you  have  anything  to  add,  like 
about  the  Black  Arts  Council  or  anything  like  that,  we 
could  end  here.   Is  there  anything  else  you  wanted  to  add 
about  your  life  in  Los  Angeles?   Or--? 
RIDDLE:   No,  I  just  wasn't--  As  a  teenager,  I  wasn't  that 


successful.   I  wish  I  had  made  my  parents  more  proud  than 
I  did.   I  wish  I  hadn't  put  myself  down  as  far  as  I  did. 
I  wish  I  had  been  more  positive,  because  I  could  have  been 
a  lot  of  things  that  I  wasn't.   I  guess  I  still  have  a 
chance  to  be  some  of  the  things  that  I  wasn't  through  art 
now,  but  success  takes  hard  work,  discipline,  and 
sacrifice  no  matter  what  it  is.   Whether  you're  trying  to 
play  sports  or  figure  out  your  art  ideas,  it  takes  the 
same  commitment,  discipline.   All  the  characteristics  that 
are  in  success  in  one  area  are  in  the  others.   I  don't 
think  Picasso  worked  any  harder  than  Michael  Jordan  to  get 
to  the  top  of  what  he  did.   They  both  had  to  give  up  a  lot 
to  get  there.   But  then  maybe  when  you  get  there,  there's 
a  lot  that  you  get  that  others  don't.   I  feel  that  way. 
And  that's  about  it,  I  guess,  of  John  Riddle  as  an 
artist.   I  wouldn't  let  my  kids  be  artists.   They  always 
say,  "Can  I  be  an  artist?"   And  I'd  say,  "No,  go  to  school 
and  learn  how  to  do  something  that  you  can  make  a  living 
at."   Because  you  can  always  do  art.   And  that  was  the 
great  argument  that  David  [Hammons]  and  I  had  at  one  time. 
He  felt  that  you  had  to  sacrifice  all  your  other  functions 
and  primarily  be  an  artist.   And  I  used  to  say,  "No,  you 
have  to  raise  a  family  first,  and  then  you  can  do  art." 
And  he  did  it  the  way  he  believed,  which  I  have  no 
complaints  or  any--  You  know,  I  think  he  did  the  right 


thing  for  him.   I  feel  like  I've  done  the  right  thing  for 
me.   Now,  at  fifty-nine,  I  think,  "Boy,  God,  just--  All 
these  kids  are  grown;  I  can  retire  in  six  years  from  a 
straight  job.   Give  me  twenty  years  to  just  do  art  where 
Monday  and  Tuesday  just  become  the  next  day. "   And  you  get 
up  in  the  morning  and--  Now,  success--  People  think  you're 
successful--  I  might  even  be  in  this  interview  because 
somebody  thought  I  had  reached  success  as  a  black  artist 
to  some  level.   But,  to  me,  success  isn't  fame  and  it's 
not  money.   Success  is  when  you  can  get  up  in  the  morning- - 
Before  you  even  get  up,  you  wake  up  in  the  morning,  you 
thank  God  for  the  day,  and  you  say  to  yourself,  "Shall  I 
paint?   Shall  I  rest?   Shall  I  lay  in  the  hammock  and  read 
a  book?   What  shall  I  do  today  that  would  really  make  me 
have  a  worthwhile,  fulfilling  day?"   And  you  don't  have  to 
worry  about  bills  [that]  aren't  paid  because  you're  not 
out  there  humping  and  working.   To  me,  that's  the  ultimate 
in  success,  to  be  able  to  have  that  control  over  what  you 
want  to  do  each  day.   If  I  can  have  me  a  few  years  of  that 
at  the  end  of  all  of  this,  then  I  can  say,  "Hey,  I've 
crossed  over  the  success  line. " 
MASON:   Okay.   Well,  thank  you  very  much. 


JUNE  26,  1993 

MASON:   I  just  wanted  to  ask  some  follow-up  questions  from 

our  interview.   The  last  time  I  made  some  notes  for  myself 

that  wouldn't  necessarily  correspond  to  the  order  that  I 

typed  up  the  letter.   But  the  same  questions  would  be, 

more  or  less,  included  in  the  follow-up,  if  that's  okay. 

RIDDLE:   Oh,  I  wasn't  listening. 

MASON:   I  was  saying  that  I  made  some  notes  after--  I 

typed  those  up  from  my  handwritten  notes.   And  then  after 

I  listened  to  the  tape,  I  made  some  other  notes,  other 

kind  of  follow-up  questions  that  don't  necessarily 

correspond  to  the  order.   But,  yeah,  it's  the  same  thing. 

RIDDLE:   What  are  you  going  to  deal  with  first?   These 

questions?   Or  these  names?   Or--? 

MASON:   No,  I  guess  I  had  more  or  less  some  follow-up-- 

Well,  the  name  list  I  can  just  take  home,  because  that's 

just  for  the  transcriber,  so  they  can  get  the  correct 

names  and  stuff. 

RIDDLE:   I  just  scribbled  all  over  your  paper. 

MASON:   Oh,  that's  okay.   Because  I  can  just-- 

RIDDLE:   But  I  put  arrows  to  the  scribbles. 

MASON:   Okay.   Well,  I  can  just  retype  this.   It's  no  big 

thing.    Yeah,  mostly  just  some  follow-up  questions  about 


your  work,  because  there  were  some  things  that  weren't 

clear  in  the  first  tape.   Then,  you  know,  go  to  the  other 

questions  about  the  institutions  and  Black  Arts  Council 

and  things  like  that. 

RIDDLE:   Okay. 

MASON:   Okay.   One  of  the  things  I  was  wondering  about  was 

you  mentioned  your  father  [John  Thomas  Riddle,  Sr.]  had  a 

degree  in  architecture,  and  sometimes  he  would  point  out 

some  houses  that  he  and  Harold  Williams  worked  on 


RIDDLE:   That's  Paul  Williams. 

MASON:   Paul  Williams--! 'm  sorry--worked  on  together.   So 

I  was  just  wondering  whether  architecture  was  something 

that  was  part  of  discussion  in  your  house,  architectural 

styles  or  architectural  history. 

RIDDLE:   Not  so  much  any  of  that  as  the  fact  that  there 

were  architectural  materials,  like  pencils  and  rulers  and 

T-squares  and  triangles  and  drawing  boards.   I  always  saw 

my  father  hovering  over  the  drafting  table.   So  I  think 

that  was  probably  an  influence  that  was  greater  than  the 

natural  discussions  of  architectural  periods.   I  don't 

remember  any  of  that. 

MASON:   Yeah.   Okay.   You  and  John  Outterbridge--  Uh-oh. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh,  I'm  sorry.   Did  I  hit  your  foot? 

RIDDLE:   I  was  moving  it  when  I  felt  it  coming.   That's 


all  right. 

MASON:   You  and  John  Outterbridge  collaborated  on  a 
project  for  a  doctor's  office  in  Compton.   Is  that 
RIDDLE:   Uh-huh. 

MASON:   Could  you  talk  about  that,  how  that  came  about  and 
what  you  did  for  it? 

RIDDLE:   Well,  it  was  basically  just  an  outgrowth  of  John 
and  I.   We  had  an  affinity  for  material  and  content.   We 
both  liked  social  commentary.   We  both  liked  making  stuff 
out  of  discarded  material,  so  we  had  that  in  common.   We 
used  to  always  go  out  on  forays  into  secondhand  stores, 
junkyards,  anyplace  where  we  might  find  material.   It  was 
almost  like  we  were  prospectors  for  art  material.   And  out 
of  that  we  were  given  a  commission  by  a  veterinarian  and 
a--  That  husband  was  a  veterinarian,  and  the  wife  was  a 
pediatrician.   They  had  a  real  big  doctor's  office  that 
they  had  just  built,  and  they  wanted  art.   So  we 
collaborated  on  some  murals  and  things.   We  were  good 
friends,  so  it  was  very  easy.   Plus,  it  goes  back  to  the 
African  tradition  too,  in  my  mind,  that  artists  don't  work 
as  individuals.   They  work  in  a  collaborative.   Whether 
it's  building  drums  or  carving  totems  or  any  other 
artifacts  or  stamping  cloth  designs,  it  was  a  group 
activity  rather  than  an  isolated  individual  activity.   So 


I  always  felt  that  was  part  of  what  artists  should  do. 

It's  just  a  Western  concept  of  individualism  that  lures  us 

away  from  that. 

MASON:   Yeah.   Do  they  still  exist--do  you  know--the 


RIDDLE:   I  never  went  back  to  look,  because  I  think  art  is 

like--  Nothing  is  permanent  in  the  world,  so  art  shouldn't 

be  considered  as  permanent  either.   It  might  last  four 

hundred  years,  a  thousand  years,  two  thousand  years,  or  as 

old  as  cave  paintings.   But,  eventually,  there  won't  be 

any.   So  I  never  think  of  it  like  that.   I  mean,  if  you 

put  some  murals  on  a  wall,  you  know  that  wall  isn't  going 

to  stay  up  forever.   When  the  wall  goes,  the  art  goes. 

That's  just  the  way  it  is. 

MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   It's  temporary.   Long-term  temporary. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   You  did  those  murals  at  BCN  and  they  got 

painted  over. 

RIDDLE:   That's  true. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Beautiful  murals. 


RIDDLE:   Black  Christian  Nationalist  Church. 

MASON:   Oh,  yeah.   You  mentioned  that. 

RIDDLE:   In  reference  to  Albert  Cleage.   I  spent  a  year  of 

my  life  in  there. 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  was  up  there  endangering  his  life, 

putting  the  most  beautiful  murals  up  there.   And  how  long 

was  it  before  they  painted  white  over  it? 

RIDDLE:   Actually,  they  lowered  the  ceiling. 

MASON:   Oh,  right.   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   They  had  an  old-fashioned  theater  ceiling.   And 

they  put  in  a  suspended  acoustical  ceiling,  and  the 

ceiling  was  lower  than  the  mural.   They're  still  up  there, 

but  they're  up  above  the  ceiling. 

MASON:   Yeah,  I  think  you  mentioned  that  the  other  artist 

who  worked  went  and  got  his.   They  were  done  on  panels  or 


RIDDLE:   He  did  his  on  four-by-eight  panels.   I  could  have 

done  that,  but  I  felt  it  was  much  more  exotic  just  to  prep 

the  walls  and  paint  on  the  walls  like  Michelangelo. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Then  he  got  out  of  the  church,  so  they 

didn't  feel  as  warmly  towards  him. 

RIDDLE:   Well,  the  murals  lasted  a  long  time.   They  lasted 

five  or  six  years  after  I  left  the  church.   But  I  painted 

a  black  ankh  on  the  front  of  the  church  and  it's  still 

there.   Every  time  I  see  it,  I  remember  how  terrified  I 

was  on  a  little  one-foot-wide  scaffold  at  about  forty  feet 

off  the  ground.   I  had  to  paint  fast  and  get  off  of  that. 

MASON:   What  was  the  subject  of  the--? 

RIDDLE:   That  was  seventeen  years  ago,  because  our  son 


[Diallo  Amir  Riddle]  will  be  eighteen  in  June  and  he 

wasn't  born  yet.   So  that  was  a  long  time  ago. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  was  first  baby  of  the  nation,  and  he 

was  first  artist  of  the  nation.   And  then  when  we  got  out, 

those  things  were  painted  over.   Our  family  was  destroyed 

by  it,  because  we  saw  him  put  his  heart  and  soul  into 

those  murals.   They  were  the  most  gorgeous  murals.   They 

had  a  tour  of  Atlanta  where  busloads  of  people  came  to  see 

these  murals.   Then  when  we  got  out,  they  painted  over 

them.   And  it  was  sad,  because  they'll  never  find  any  art 

that  beautiful.   It  was  like  the  Sistine  Chapel,  really. 

RIDDLE:   Well,  I  still  feel  that-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Magnificent  art. 

RIDDLE:   I  feel  that  art  is  temporary,  even  though  it  can 

last  a  long  time.   On  the  scale  of  the  time  that  the 

planets  have  been  here,  it's  temporary.   So  it  stays  as 

long  as  it  can,  then  it's  gone. 

MASON:   Yeah.   What  was  the  subject  of  the  doctor's 


RIDDLE:   You  know,  at  this  point  I  don't  even  remember.   I 

remember  that  Bridge  and  I  were  having--  I  was  teaching 

ceramics  at  Beverly  Hills  [High  School] ,  so  we  felt  that 

we  should  use  available  material--  I  had  access  to  the 

classroom  on  the  weekends--  I  remember  we  laid  out  eight 

by  sixteen  feet  of  clay,  and  we  didn't  know  what  to  do 


with  it.   So  then  I  remember  we  were  talking  very 

abstractly  about,  "What  are  we  going  to  do  with  all  this 

clay?"   And  I  said,  "Well,  let's  just  fill  the--"  I 

remember  Bridge  and  I  were  talking,  and  we  said,  "Well, 

let's  try  to  communicate  with  the  ancestors."   And  we  just 

said  that  kind  of  as  a--  And  it  was  really  amazing, 

because  it's  kind  of  hazy  now.   But  I  remember  there  was 

kind  of  like  a  communication  with  the  Caribbean.   It 

sounds  corny  now.   But  we  were  talking;  we  were  just  both 

doing  it.   And  then  we  realized  after  we  talked  about  it 

that  we  had  gone  through  the  Caribbean  and  back  across  the 

Atlantic  Ocean  to  Africa.   So  that's  the  only  thing  I 

really  remember  about  the  project  was  that  that  was  the 

highlight,  that  we  had  felt  we  had  made  communication  with 

the  ancestors, 

MASON:   Yeah,  like  a  reverse  middle  passage. 

RIDDLE:   But  as  far  as  what  the  subject  matter  was,  I 

don ' t  remember . 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  and  Bridge  loved  working  together, 

though,  because  they're  both  Pisces  and  they're  both 

artists  and  they're  just  about  the  same  age. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  he's  one  year  older  than  me. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  just  really  merged  as  compatible 


RIDDLE:   And  then  we  used  to —  Like  I  said,  the  forays 


with  Bridge,  going  to  look  for  material--  I  mean,  he  would 
be  looking  for  a  totally  different  thing  than  I  would. 
And  he  had  places  that  he  went  habitually  to  look  that  I 
had  never  been  to  before;  and  I  had  been,  conversely,  to 
places  he  had  never  been.   So  by  cross-referencing  our 
sources--  And  we'd  always  take--  "How  much  are  we  going  to 
spend  today?"   "Twenty  bucks."   And  we'd  have  these  limits 
to  make  sure  we  just  didn't  overload  with  junk,  buy  up 
everything.   So  we  became  selective.   I  remember  going 
with  Bridge  was  a  lot  of  fun,  because  the  creative  juice 
started  when  I  would  be  going  to  his  house  or  he  would  be 
coming  to  mine.   Then  it  continued  as  we  went  to  a  place, 
talking  about  art  and  social  events  that  were  happening 
and  then  actually  getting  to  a  place.   And  then  you  have 
like  these  pre-programmed  ideas  in  your  head--  Kind  of 
like  you  don't  know  what  you're  looking  for,  but  you  know 
if  you  see  it.   It's  going  to  strike  a  bell  with  some 
piece  you're  working  on,  some  piece  that  needs  some 
material  to  fit  the  concept  that's  just  in  your  head  and 
hasn't  even  gotten  out  yet.   It  was  just  a  very  nice 
thing.   We  used  to  do  that,  and  that  worked  right  up 
through  when  Bridge  opened  the  Communicative  Arts  Academy. 
We  used  to  consult  on  that,  and  I  was  on  this  board.   That 
was  a  lot  of  fun,  because  it  was  very  spontaneous.   We 
always  had  like  a  spontaneous  relationship  anyway.   So 


that's — 

MASON:   What  about  Tony  Hill? 

RIDDLE:   Well,  he  died. 

MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   I  mean,  as  soon  as  I  met  Tony  he  died. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  was  one  of  the  older  guys. 

RIDDLE:   He  had  a  heart  attack. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   My  mother's  friends  knew  him  because  he 

used  to  do  ceramics  for  their  houses.   He  was  more  of  a 

commercial -like  artist. 

MASON:   Yeah.   He  had  this  big  business  where  he  sold 


RIDDLE:   Yeah. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   It  wasn't  real  big.   It  was  just  a  small 


MASON:   Well,  but  he  made  a  lot  of  money,  though. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Well,  no.   Not  really. 

RIDDLE:   Well,  he  supported  himself. 

MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   I  mean,  it  wasn't  like-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   The  people  that  knew  him  would  support 

him,  you  know?   He  was  the  person  they  would  go  get  to 

make  a  lamp  or  a  vase  or  something,  because  he  was  a 

social  friend,  too. 

RIDDLE:   And  he  had  a  showroom  with  lamps  and  bowls  and 


vessels  and  things. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  probably  didn't  make  as  much  as  he 
should  have. 

RIDDLE:   But  he  had  the  techniques:   casting  from  slip, 
glazes,  firing  techniques.   But  he  didn't  have  a  mass 
production  situation,  because  his  studio  was  in  a  wooden- 
frame,  one-story  house  with  a  garage  and  some  outdoor 
covered  facilities  behind  his  house.   We  had  talked 
about--When  I  told  him  I  might  go  to  Atlanta  and  there  was 
a  big  boomtown  hotel  kind  of  thing  here--  When  I  got  here 
I  saw  that.   And,  you  know,  we  discussed  about,  "Man, 
there's  no  black  vendors  supplying  these  hotel  rooms, 
hundreds  of  hotel  rooms.   They  all  got  lamps;  they  all 
have  planters  in  the  lobby.   We  could  probably  crack  into 
that  concept,  the  minority  joint  venture."   I  said,  "Look, 
we've  got  to  have  lamps.   Well,  you're  not  buying  any 
lamps  from  black  folks.   You're  not  buying  any  prints  from 
black  folks  to  be  on  your  walls.   You're  not  letting  black 
framers  frame  some  of  these  thousands  and  thousands  of 
pictures  in  these  hundreds  and  hundreds  of  rooms.   Give  us 
10  percent  of  the  action,"  which  we  thought  we'd  get  rich. 
Then  he  went  to  Egypt,  and  then  somebody  wrote  me  and  told 
me  he  died.   So  that  was  just  an  idea  that  never  brought 
any  financial  fruition,  but  it  was  a  good  idea  at  the 


MASON:   Yeah.   Do  you  know  some  people  who  might  have  some 

of  his  lamps? 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They're  probably  dead  and  gone,  too.   In 

Los  Angeles- - 

RIDDLE:   I  just  remember  where  his  living  room  was  was  his 

showroom . 

MASON:   Where  did  he  live?   Did  he  live  with  Mel  [Melvin] 

Edwards  or  live  near  Mel  Edwards  or  something? 

RIDDLE:   No,  Mel  lived  just  below  Vernon  [Avenue  West]  on 

either  Arlington  [Avenue]  or  Van  Ness  [Avenue  South]  or 

one  of  those  streets. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  lives  on  Washington  [Boulevard]  or  Pico 

[Boulevard] . 

RIDDLE:   Tony  was  on  either  Jefferson  [Boulevard]  or 

Exposition  [Boulevard] . 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Yeah,  out  there  by  Culver  City. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  between  Crenshaw  [Boulevard]  and  La  Brea 

[Boulevard] .   But  it  was  either  on  Exposition  or 

Jefferson.   I  think  it  was  Jefferson. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   It  was  just  a  little  place. 

RIDDLE:   It  was  just  a  house,  and  his  front  room  was  his 

showroom.   Mel  lived  in  an  apartment  over  a  storefront 

just  below  whatever  street  it  is  this  side,  one  block 

east,  of  Arlington  at  Vernon.   He  lived  down  there. 

MASON:   Okay. 


RIDDLE:   I  think,  probably,  the  other  two  black  artists  I 
liked  best--  Well,  no,  I  can't  say  "liked,"  but  whose  art 
was  the  most  influential,  I'd  say  were  being  around  Noah 
Purifoy  and  David  Hammons. 
MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   And  Ruth  [G.]  Waddy  and  Dan  Concholar.   They  were 
like  artists,  but  they  were  also  like  good  friends.   They 
were  all  very  active  as  artists,  and  we  always  shared 
stuff.   We  always  talked  about  art,  criticized  each 
other's  work- -that  kind  of  thing.   Alonzo  Davis  was 
influential,  too,  because  he  had  a  space  that  artists 
would  come  together  and  talk  and  communicate  and  argue. 
MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   We'd  always  try  to  tell  each  other  that  art 
wasn't  worth  anything.   I  mean,  it  was  a  serious,  honest 
evaluation.   "I  don't  like  that.   You  need  to  change  that 
part."   If  you  had  the  courage  to  go,  it  was  good  for  you. 
MASON:   Yeah,  yeah.   Would  you  say  there  was  kind  of  an 
avant-garde  at  some  point? 
RIDDLE:   Amongst  us? 
MASON:   Uh-huh. 

RIDDLE:   Well,  I  think  more  than  an  avant-garde.   I  saw  it 
more  as  a  competition.   But  it  wasn't  a  cutthroat 
competition.   It  was  the  kind  of  a  situation  that 
encouraged  you  to  do  the  best  you  could,  because  you  knew 


people  that  you  respected  as  artists  and  you  liked  as 
friends  were  going  to  see  your  work.   Therefore  you 
couldn't  be  dillydallying.   You  had  to  push  your  own  edges 
forward.   If  it  crossed  into  avant-garde,  so  be  it.   But 
you  had  to  push  your  own  style  of  expression,  because  you 
wanted  to  be--  You  didn't  want--  I  guess  just  because  you 
knew  all  your  friends  were  doing  it. 

I  mean,  one  time  David  Hammons--  Everybody  went  to  an 
art  show,  and  he  didn't  go.   And  everybody  said,  "How  come 
you  didn't  go  to  the  art  show,  man?   Where  were  you? 
Where  were  you?"   And  David  said,  "I  knew  all  the  black 
artists  in  Los  Angeles  were  going  to  be  at  that  art  show. 
And  I  knew  if  I  stayed  home,  I  would  be  the  only  black 
artist  in  Los  Angeles  doing  art."   So  I  mean,  it  was  that 
kind  of  a  thing.   It  was  humorous.   I  remember  one  time 
there  was  a  big  art  show  and  I  didn't  go,  and  I  tried 
that.   And  there  was  a  definite  feeling  that  you  got 
knowing  all  your  friends  were  at  the  art  show  chitchatting 
and  lollygagging,  and  you  were  home  pushing  your 
experience.   You  was  getting  a  jump  on  them.   It  was  a 
funny  feeling  just  to  do  that  just  for  that. 
MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   So  we  were  friends  and  we  were  artists,  and  we 
liked  each  other  and  we  hung  out  together.   And  that's 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Plus,  they  had  families. 

RIDDLE:   And  they  all  had  families. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They'd  all  hang  out  together.   We  had 

picnics  and  parties  and  they  would  do  art  and  bring  a 

glass  of  wine  and  then  they'd  have  art  shows.   All  these 

same  people  would  be  in  the  art  shows  and  talk  about  the 

people  who  came  to  critique  and  talk  about  the  people  who 

came  to  buy  and  talk  about  Aurelia  [Brooks]  and  all  the 

different  people. 

RIDDLE:   Uh-huh. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  had  so  much  in  common,  because  they 

were--  Why?   I  don't  know  why.   Because  they  all  came 

from  different  places.   But  they  just  had  a-- 

RIDDLE:   But  we  all  came  together  around  the  Watts  riot. 


RIDDLE:   I  mean,  that  was  like  the  coalescence  point. 

Because  there  was  like  this  need,  but  it  was  kind  of  like 

an  intuitive  need  to  make  some  expression  out  of  the 

Watts  riot.   And  that  first  show  in  Watts  at--I  can't 

even  think  of  the  name  of  that  park- -Will  Rogers  Park,  in 

the  gym,  the  first  annual  Watts  arts  festival  [Summer 

Festival  Art]--  And  all  of  a  sudden,  here  are  all  these 

people  who  had  collected  debris  and  junk.   We  were 

basically  all  assemblage  people,  transference  of--  We 

used  to  call  it  taking  discarded  social  artif acts--things 


that  had  been  originally  created  for  use  in  this  society 
but  not  intended  as  art--modifying  them  and  reassembling 
them  as  symbols  to  depict  what  we  were  trying  to  say.   I 
mean,  that  was  Noah,  that  was  David  and,  to  some  extent, 
Dan,  because  he  was  more  of  a  painter.   But  definitely 
Noah.   And  all  these  people  and  a  host  of  other  people 
just  all  come  together  with  the  same  ideas.   Then  out  of 
that  initial  coming  together,  there  were  bonds  made  that 
to  this  day,  if  we  got  on  a  conference  call,  we'd  all 
start  laughing  about.   Because  nobody  really  had  bad 
feelings  about  it;  it  was  a  good  time. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  had  to  stick  together  because  the 
white  critics  would  say  it  wasn't  really  art.   They  said, 
"It  wasn't  really  art.   They  were  just  angry  people." 
RIDDLE:   They  always  used  to  attack  anybody  who  did  the 
American  eagle's  claws  dripping  with  blood.   But  the 
thing  that  I  found  about  the  critics,  that  I  liked  about 
the  white  critics,  was  that  if  they  panned  you  or 
applauded  you,  it  took  energy.   They  had  to  use  time  out 
of  their  life  to  say  your  art  stunk  or  your  art  was  good. 
But  if  they  didn't,  if  they  were  indifferent  and  didn't 
write  about  you,  that  was  the  worst.   It  didn't  matter  if 
they  said  you  were  good  or  bad.   But  if  they  didn't  see 
your  art,  that  meant  something  was  wrong  with  your  art. 
Your  art  didn't  have  the  ability--  Like  one  guy  said  in 


that  group,  "Art  should  be  able  to  snatch  your  attention 
for  a  split  second,  at  least."   If  you're  at  an  art  show, 
you'll  have  to  look  and  say,  "Wow I"   Then  you  may 
discount  it,  but  it  should,  at  least  for  a  split  second, 
be  able  to  grab  your  attention  and  hopefully  pull  you 
into  it  and  make  you  deal  with  it. 
MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   And  so  that  was  like  a  fundamental  premise  in 
all  our  art,  that  you  had  to  have  someplace  in  that  art 
that  was--  Color,  composition,  whatever--  Something  had 
to  put  you  into  that  art.   And  then  if  you  drifted  on  out 
of  it,  that  was  cool.   But  if  you  didn't  even  see  it,  I 
mean,  that  was  a  sad  state. 

We  used  to  talk  about  the  critics.   We'd  get 
together  over  at  somebody ' s  house  and  break  out  the 
paisano,  and  everybody  would  just  sit  around- -no  art, 
except  art  that  might  be  hanging  in  somebody's  house--and 
just  discuss  these  matters. 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Betye  Saar  and — 

RIDDLE:   Lots  of  people.   There  was  probably  about--  I 
had  a  picture  in  one  of  those  rooms. 

RIDDLE:   Uh-huh,  Tim  [Timothy]  Washington. 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Washington. 
RIDDLE:   We  had  lots  of  guys  and  lots  of  ladies.   Suzanne 


Jackson,  Samella  [Lewis],  Ruth.   I  mean,  there  were  a  lot 

of  people  involved . 

MASON:   Do  you  think  there  would  have  been  a  difference 

if  there  had  been  black  critics,  meaning  black  people  who 

had  sort  of  an  art  historical  background,  but  who  maybe 

weren't  a  part  of  the  group  and  who  may  be  outside? 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   The  black  critics  were--  Like  Samella, 

she  wrote  books . 

MASON:   But  she  was  part  of  the  group,  though. 

RIDDLE:   Well,  but  even-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Not  really.   She  was  supposed  to  be  an 

author . 

RIDDLE:   She  did  art,  but  she  was  a  lesser  artist. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Now  she  does  more  art  than  she  did  then. 

Now,  Ruth  wasn't  an  artist.   She  started  very  late,  very 

late  in  life. 

RIDDLE:   Printmaking  and  woodcuts  and  stuff.   But  I  think 

the  difference  I  saw  between  the  black  critics  and  the 

white  critics  was  that  the  black  critics--they  approached 

since  they  were--  It  was  like  they  had  a  better  sense  of 

the  visual  language  just  because  they  were  black.   White 

critics  needed  subtitles  sometimes,  but  the  black 

critics,  they  spoke  the  language.   So,  to  me,  the  black 

critics--  It  was,  "Do  they  have  an  understanding  of  what 

you're  doing?   Can  they  look  at  the  symbols  of  what 


you ' re  saying  and  expressing  and  see  it  in  the  context  of 

the  black  experience?"   Where  white  people,  as  critics, 

didn't  always  have-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Who  were  the  black  critics  then? 

RIDDLE:   Well,  there  were  some.   I  mean,  it's  hard  to  say 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I  don't  remember  any. 

RIDDLE:   It's  been  so  long  ago,  but  there  were  some. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Just  like  most  of  the  people  buying  the 

art  were  white. 

RIDDLE:   Just  like  there's  some  now. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   They  were  white  people  buying  art. 

RIDDLE:   At  the  very  beginning,  when  art  was  real  cheap. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Yeah,  that's  what  you're  talking  about. 

RIDDLE:   No,  but  I  mean-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   That's  right.   When  they  had  the  Watts 

festival,  all  the  white  people  came  out  there  and  they 

were  buying  art.   They  were  the  ones  who  were  into  art, 

for  the  most  part.   The  white  galleries  on  La  Cienega 

were  the  ones  showing  black  art,  except  for  Brockman 


RIDDLE:   Well,  that  came  after,  though.   That  was 

probably  three  or  four  years  after  the  Watts  festival. 

MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   But  that's  like--  [William]  Pajaud  [Jr.]  always 


teases  me  about  selling  that  picture  to  that  lady  north 

on  Canon.   He  said  the  white  lady  wanted  to  pay  $400  and 

the  black  lady  wanted  to  pay  $90,  because  she  said  it 

reminded  her  of  her  mother- -because  she  went  out  every 

day  to  do  maid  service  in  Beverly  Hills. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And  he  was  so  happy  that  a  black  person 

wanted  art  that  he  practically  gave  it  to  her.   Because 

to  this  day,  most  black  people  think  that  you  just  buy 

something  in  Rich's  [Department  Store]. 

RIDDLE:   Art  is  a  luxury. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   You  don't  know  about  Rich's.   But  just  in 

a  store  is  the  same  as  buying  art.   They  haven't  really 

gotten  into  art  as  much  as  the  whites  have,  and  that's 

the  contradiction. 

RIDDLE:   But  there  were--  Carmen's  right  about  that.   I 

think  there  are  more  black  people  interested  in  art  now 


I  think  that  there  are  a  lot  more  black  buyers,  but 
they  don't--  Well,  it's  like  that  article  right  there 
that  we  just  read  today  about  the  invisible  artists.   I 
mean,  that's  what  it's  about.   And  they  speak  to  the 
living  artists  and  the  dead  artists,  mostly  all  male 
artists,  too,  by  the  way.   [Henry  O.]  Tanner,  [Romare] 
Bearden,  Jacob  Lawrence,  and  people--they ' re  just  now 
becoming  uninvisible.   So  the  artists  that  are  up 


underneath  them  like  me,  and  other  people--  I  mean,  if 
they're  invisible,  we  don't  exist. 
MASON:   Yeah, 

RIDDLE:   But  it's  improved,  because  there's  a  lot  more 
people  who  buy  black  art.   But  there  are  a  lot  of  black 
people  who  bought  art  then.   I  think  the  black  art  focus 
has  changed  from  social  commentary  then  to  genre  art  now. 
Which  is  like  black  people  now  that  buy  art  and  spend 
money- -in  my  opinion- -for  art  that  has  non-social 
commentary  subject  matter. 
MASON:   You  mean  non-confrontational? 

RIDDLE:   Yeah.   Now  it's  more  like  people  sitting  on  the 
porch  whittling,  the  older  lady  having  her  hair  done  by 
two  generations,  like  grandmother,  granddaughter  combing 

MASON:   African  women  with  babies  on  their  back, 
RIDDLE:   Quilting. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   But  Jacob  Lawrence  did  that  kind,  too, 
though.   It's  just  not  as  good  art.   I  don't  think 
they're  as  well-versed  on  art.   But  then,  people  buy  what 
they  want. 
MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   Well,  Jacob,  he's  still  basically  a  social- 
commentary  artist,  and  John  Biggers  is  probably  a  mixture 


of  social  commentary  and  excellent  craftsmanship.   But 

you  look  at  the  Paul  Goodnights  and  the  artists  that 

right  now  are  really  making  the  money,  the  William 

Tollivers  and  the  people  like  that.   I  mean,  they  do  good 

art,  but  it's  like  "Nubian  Queen"  or  "Black  Woman  with 

Lillies"  you  know.   Something  that  you  go  home  and  it's 

peaceful  and  it  doesn't-- 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Charles  White. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  Charles  White  was  like--  But  Charles  White 

was  a  crossover,  too,  because  you  might  see  Charles  White 

do  Harriet  Tubman  like  he  did  her  big  strong,  as  big  as 

Arnold  Schwarzenegger- - 

MASON:   Like  the  one  at  the  Golden  State  [Mutual  Life 

Insurance  Company] . 

RIDDLE:   Because  of  her  power.   Yeah.   So  he  had  like 

social  commentary  mixed  in  kind  of  like  Riggers  in  my 

mind.   It's  clothed  in  a  beautifully  done,  natural 


MASON:   Yeah. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Yeah,  that's  what-- 

RIDDLE:   And  then  these  materials,  they're  hidden  as 

subsurface  things.   You  buy  it  because  it's  so--  You're 

attracted  because  it's  so  beautifully  done.   And  then  it 

may  be  later  on  at  the  secondary  or  third  level  that  you 

realize  that  he  has  put  a  very  social,  powerful  message 


in  on  top  of  it.   But  it's  kind  of  done  subtly.   I  used 

to  think  that  was  the  way  to  do  slave  ships  and 

everything  else,  is  to  paint  this  magnificent  ship  on  the 

high  seas  at  full  sail.   But  then  very  subtly  maybe  have 

symbols  of  the  middle  passage.   If  the  sails  were  white, 

a  slightly  off  white.   Images  of  anguish  that  are  bound 

in  the  hull  of  this  ship  that  you  can't  see.   But  you  buy 

it  because  you  say,  "What  a  beautiful  ship."   Until  you 

get  home  and  about  two  weeks  later  you  realize  it's  a 

ship  full  of  slaves.   Whereas  if  you  just  put  the  slaves 

hanging  over  the  side  of  the  boat  as  the  wretched  of  the 

earth,  some  people  wouldn't  buy  it.   So  it's  kind  of  an 

artistic  deception. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   When  he  had  this  show  with  [Manuel] 

Noriega,  that  guy  said--  He  had  all  these  pieces  like 


RIDDLE:   Saddam  Hussein. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   And  the  white  guy  said,  "This  guy's 

really  a  hostile  person."   He  was  looking  at  his  art. 

But  yet  he  didn't  hide  it  like  in  that  time.   He  didn't 

hide  it  in  that  show. 

RIDDLE:   It's  just,  basically,  Noriega  went  to  jail. 

There's  a  whole  picture  of  all  the  people  like  Ollie 

[Oliver]  North  and  them  all  up  there  lying. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Yeah,  most  people  wouldn't  buy  anything 


like  that  because  they  don't  want  to  be  reminded. 
RIDDLE:   The  real  deal  in  Central  America  is  the  United 
States  was  involved  in  drug  peddling.   And  one  of  these 
things  you  had  asked  about  was  John  Hall's  ranch,  and 
John  Hall's  ranch  in  Costa  Rica  was  where-- 
MASON:   No,  I  didn't  ask  about  that. 

RIDDLE:   Oh,  it's  on  [the  list  of  questions].   He  has  a 

MASON:   He  must  have  just  mentioned  it,  because  I  don't 

RIDDLE:   But  his  ranch  was  where  the  American  planes, 
after  they  took  arms  to  the  Contras,  they  loaded  up  with 
cocaine  and  brought  it  back  to  south  Florida,  to 
Homestead  Air  Force  Base.   They  caught  that  guy,  [Eugene] 
Hasenf us .   I  mean,  they  shot  him  down.   He  didn't  get 
killed.   And  when  they  brought  him  out  of  the  jungle,  he 
said--  I  mean,  I  was  looking  at  the  television,  looking 
right  at  him  when  he  said  it,  so  I  know  I  didn't  make  it 
up.   He  said,  "Well,  why  should  we  bring  back  empty 
planes?   Of  course,  we  bring  back  cocaine."   Then  all  of 
a  sudden  Hasenf us  just  kind  of  faded  out  and  disappeared. 
And  to  this  day  he  never  went  on  trial;  he  never--  You 
know,  I  saw  him  on  60  Minutes  about  nine  months  ago. 
But,  I  mean,  he  had  damaging  testimony.   They  put  it  all 
on  Noriega. 


You  know,  it's  like  there's  so  much  American 
collusion  in  the  drug  trade  that  it's  pathetic.   But  the 
drug  trade  destroys  the  black  community.   It's  a  greater 
oppressor  than  any  kind  of  military  force  or  police  force 
that  could  come  in.   Because  it's  got  black  people  abusing 
drugs,  so  that  puts  them  off,  and  black  people  killing  for 
drugs,  so  that  puts  them  off.   Black  babies  and  young 
children  of  the  next  generation  [are]  the  victims  of  their 
parents  being  drug  abusers  and  drug  users,  whether  they're 
orphaned  by  it  or  whether  they're  born  with  birth  defects 
by  it.   It's  a  way  to  destroy  the  black  community.   It's 
part  of  what  I  consider  the  genocide,  and  it's  for  making 
profit  for  people  at  the  top.   It  keeps  hatred  and 
hostility  going  with  people  at  this  level  where  I  have  to 
survive,  where  my  wife  has  to  survive. 

It  makes  me  worry  every  time  my  son  goes  out  the  door 
to  go  to  school  or  to  work  that  somebody  will  hijack  him 
for  his  1984  Honda.   It's  dangerous  out  there.   In  the 
days  of  the  Black  Panther  Party,  you  couldn't  buy  guns. 
But  now,  in  these  days  of  this  century,  when  you  want  to 
buy  guns  to  kill  other  black  folk,  you  can  get  all  the 
guns  you  want.   But  when  it  was  "get  whitey, "  you  couldn't 
buy  guns.   Now  you  can  get  street  sweepers,  uzis,  grenade 
launchers.   Anything  you  want,  they'll  sell  it  to  you,  as 
long  as  you're  killing  somebody  in  the  city. 


MASON:   Yeah,  like--what's  his  name?--David  Koresh  had 
that  whole  arsenal  down  there,  so  god  knows  you  can  get 
anything.   But  how  can  art  address  that  since  it's--?  I 
mean,  you  can  address  that  in  the  image,  but  it's 
essentially  a  private  image  that  exists  in  a  private 
space,  or--  Yeah,  a  private  space,  like  a  home  or  a 

RIDDLE:   I  see  it  as  a  dilemma,  because  if  I  do  the  art 
that  I  feel  passionate  about--  And  I  think  any  artist  in 
any  phase  of  art- -visual  art,  performing  art,  literary 
art,  any  art--I  think  that  the  mixture  of  your  creativity 
and  your  passion  are  probably  two  of  the  essential 
ingredients  in  the  art  that  you  produce.   If  I  still  feel 
strong  about  these  social  issues--  To  me,  if  I  try  to 
paint  flowers  in  a  vase  because  I  need  the  money  and  I 
know  somebody  might  buy  flowers  painted  nicely  in  a  vase, 
that's  like  going  to  Sears  [Roebuck  and  Company]  for  a 
second  job,  you  know,  to  get  money.   It's  not  exciting;  it 
doesn't  have  enthusiasm. 

But  if  I  can  depict  that  racist  traffic  court  I  was 
in  this  last  week  with  my  son,  maybe  nobody  will  buy  it, 
but  it  will  defuse  my  hostility  for  the  racism  I  saw  in 
that  man's  court--just  blatant  racism  disguised  as  traffic 
court  justice.   I  mean,  I  was  so  mad  it  disorientated  me. 
I  couldn't  tell  left  from  right  when  I  left  out  of  there. 


The  next  day  I  thought  about  it.   It  had  at  least  subsided 
in  my  anger  to  a  headache.   By  the  third  day,  I  realized 
the  only  way  I  could  get  it  out  of  my  system  was  to  do  a 
piece  of  art  about  this  court.   So  in  my  head  I've  already 
done  it.   And  in  my  notes  I  took,  I've  already  done  it. 
Now  what  remains  is  whether  or  not  I'll  do  it  physically. 
And  nobody's  going  to  buy  it,  but  that  doesn't  mean  that 
it  doesn't  need  to  be  done. 

MASON:   Yeah.   Sounds  like  a  topic  for  a  performance 
piece,  something  that  you  could  sort  of  do  spontaneously 
and  you  work  through  something.   But  I  don't  know  if 
you're  interested  in  performance. 

RIDDLE:   I  didn't  realize  how  much  I  saw,  because  that 
itself  was  a  performance.   I  didn't  realize  just  sitting 
there  that--like  I  told  my  wife  [Carmen  Garrott  Riddle] -- 
the  American  flag  was  there,  but  the  Confederate  flag, 
the  Georgia  flag  with  the  Confederate  part,  it  was  gone. 
It  was  just  an  empty  flagpole  on  the  other  side  of  the 
judge.   Yet  the  judge  said  he  had  been  there  thirty-one 
years  at  one  time,  and  all  this  stuff  he  was  saying. 
"I've  been  here  thirty-one  years.   You  can't  tell  me  them 
stories.   I've  done  heard  everything."   And  I  thought, 
that's  like--  You  know  how  they  always  say  so  many  years 
BC.   And  I  was  thinking  BC  stood  for  "court  before, "  the 
before  court.   That  was  when,  I  thought,  that  was  before 


blacks  were  on  the  Georgia  state  patrol;  that  was  before 
blacks  were  in  abundance  in  the  police  department  here. 
It  was  before--  And  I  thought  of  all  the  other  things 

And  then  I  saw  that  judge  as  a  harlequin  clown 
presiding  over  a  circus,  and  the  tightrope  he  was  walking 
on  was  the  Confederate  flag,  you  know,  twisted  up  into  a 
rope.   This  friend  of  mine,  he  works  in  Corrections  here 
in  Atlanta--he  takes  prisoners  to  different  work  sites-- 
and  he  said  that  man  is  a  known  alcoholic.   See,  I  didn't 
know  that  equation.   Then  I  pictured  it  in  my  picture. 
He's  not  only  a  tightrope  walker  in  this  racist  circus, 
but  he's  also  going  to  be  a  juggler  juggling  some  liquor 
bottles.   And  then  maybe  I'll  get  some  satisfaction  out 
of--  Whether  anybody  buys  the  piece  or  not,  it  will  be  my 
artistic  diary  of  that  day  in  that  terrible  court  that  was 
called  a  court.   Because  it  was  really  bad. 

So,  to  me,  that's  where  my  artistic  passion  still  is. 
That's  probably  when  I  first  met  Noah  [Purifoy]  and  all 
these  people.   That  was  my  overriding  passion  then  as  the 
contradiction  between  what's  supposed  to  be  and  what  is. 
I  guess  you  could  sum  it  up,  like  my  wife  says:   it's  an 
injustice.   It's  a  one-word  summary.   But  Malcolm  [X]  said 
it,  too,  because  he  said  he  doesn't  see  democracy,  he  sees 
hypocrisy.   That's  what  we  live  in,  in  a  hypocrisy.   You 


see  like,  if  my  wife  did  art,  maybe  her  passion  would-- 
She  doesn't  understand  how  the  Haitians  can  be  denied. 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   No,  I  see  something  worse  than  that. 
RIDDLE:   What? 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   When  you  live  in  a  place  where  you  go  in 
the  grocery  store  or  anything  up  here,  and  these  men  hang 
out  all  day  and  they  harass  women  and  sell  drugs  in  our 
neighborhood  and  everything--  And  nobody  does  anything 
about  it.   And  the  kids  see  that.   I  just  think  it's  awful 
that  we  let  those  men  in  our  race  and  our  culture  live  in 
our  neighborhood  like  that.   Why  doesn't  someone  do 
something  about  it?   I  don't  understand  how  that  can  be. 
If  I  could  do  anything,  I  would  clean  up  the  neighborhoods 
so  that  the  kids  who  live  in  the  projects  wouldn't  have  to 
see  all  the  drugs  and  killings  and  all  that  they  have  to 
see.   Someone  should  be  taking  [care  of]  our  kids, 
MASON:   Yeah.   Well,  I  guess  the  problem  is  still 
overcrowded  jails. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   We'll  build  some  more  jails.   But  they 
just  take  them  in  and  put  them  back  out,  and  they're  up 
here  at  the  corner.   They  will  talk  to  anybody,  sell  drugs 
to  anybody,  and  no  one  does  anything  about  it. 
MASON:   Yeah,  the  only  effective  thing  I've  ever  heard 
about  getting  drugs  out  of  projects  is  when  the  Black 
Muslims  come  in  and  stand-- 


RIDDLE:   Uh-huh. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   That's  right. 

RIDDLE:   Because  they  get  the  respect  and  the  fear. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   That's  right.   And  the  men  stand  up  for 

the  neighborhood.   The  men  get  together  and  they  won't  let 

that  go  on. 

MASON:   Yeah.   Whether  they're  armed  or  not,  they  just 

stand  there. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   That's  right. 

RIDDLE:   Basically,  they're  unarmed.   But  I  just  read--  I 

just  finished  a  book.  This  Side  of  Glory  I  think  is  the 

name  of  it.   But  it's  David  Milliard's  account  of  the 

history  of  the  Black  Panther  Party.   And  there's  a  point 

he  drew  in  there  to  the  days  of  the  Black  Panther  Party, 

the  sixties  and  the  seventies,  where  [there  was]  community 

anger  and  community  action  and  community  gathering  to 

improve  neighborhoods.   In  contrast  to  after  he'd  been  in 

prison,  gotten  out,  cleaned  himself  up  from  his  drug 

addiction  and  alcohol  abuse,  how  the  young  guys  that  were 

Panthers  when  he  was  coming  up  were  now  the  young  guys  who 

were  the  dope  dealers  who  wore  the  gold,  had  the  fancy 

cars,  had  a  pocket  full  of  cash,  will  kill  you  for 

virtually  no  reason  at  all.   They  had  gone  from  concepts 

of  group  pressure  to  abject  individual  material 

gratification.   I  mean,  just  anything  was  permissible,  as 


long  as  you  had  the  $200  Nikes. 

MASON:   This  was  during  the  [Ronald  W.]  Reagan  years. 
RIDDLE:   Yeah.   I  mean,  people  don't  realize  that  crack 
cocaine,  which  is  the  most  addictive  of  all  the  drugs  that 
have  been  out  there- -all  that  flourished  under  Reagan.   He 
had  drug  czars.   I  mean,  that's  so  much  bull  that  "We're 
doing  something  about  narcotics."   Yeah,  they  were.   They 
were  opening  it  up  where  all  the  narcotics  that  could  be 
got  could  get  into  this  country. 

And  like  Carmen  says--  And  you  mentioned  about  more 
jails  to  me.   Another  piece  of  art  that  I  haven't  done  is-- 
When  you  take  real  time  and  consideration  [of  the 
industry]  of  the  criminal  justice  system  in  America,  and 
you  begin  to  plug  in  all  the  people  who  make  legitimate, 
honest,  respectable  livings  off  it:   judges,  lawyers, 
bailiffs,  architects,  planners,  manufacturers--  And  not 
even  at  these  high  levels:   administrators,  social 
workers.   All  the  people  that  are  dependent  upon  crime  for 
their  living--  Insurance  companies  because  they  get  to 
sell  two  TVs,  one  for  the  one  that  got  stolen,  and  one 
because  you're  insured.   The  same  with  cars.   Any  material 
stuff  that  gets  stolen  is  replaced  if  you've  got 
insurance-   So  that's  good  for  the  manufacturers  of  the 
stolen  items,  because  it  increases  the  purchasing  of  goods 
and  stuff. 


And  you  consider  that  black  men--  The  statistic,  last 
I  heard,  is  $32,000  a  year  to  incarcerate  somebody.   One- 
fourth  of  all  the  black  males  between  the  age  of,  say, 
late  teens  to  twenty- five  are  involved  in  some  phase,  from 
parole  and  probation  to  waiting  trial  or  being 
incarcerated.   You  know,  all  of  this.   If  crime 
disappeared  tomorrow,  we'd  have  a  much  greater  collapse  of 
the  economy  than  we  [have]  trying  to  shift  from  the  cold 
war  to  what  we're  in  right  now:   closing  bases,  reducing 
army,  cutting  down  on  military  spending.   I  mean,  we're 
catching  a  hard  economic  shot  at  America  just  from  that. 
But  if  there  was  no  crime,  all  of  those  people  that  make 
big  money  who  are  sharing  that  $32,000  of  inmate  times  a 
couple  of  million  people  probably- -where  would  that  money 
go?   That  money  would  be  gone. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Well,  why  don't  we,  as  black  people,  help 

RIDDLE:   Because  we're  neurotic. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   If  someone  comes  and  offers  me  drugs,  I'm 
not  going  to  take  it. 

RIDDLE:   Well,  you're  not  as  neurotic  as  the  average  black 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I'm  not  going  to  buy  it.   I'm  not  going  to 
sell  it.   I  say  we're  to  blame. 
RIDDLE:   Sure,  it's  our  fault. 


CARMEN  RIDDLE:   We  have  to  bring  up  our  children  so  that 
they  don't  think  like  this  and  get  rid  of  the  bad  people 
in  our  neighborhood.   I  think  we  have  to  do  it,  because 
nobody's  going  to  care  about  us  but  us.   We  have  to  take 
care  of  our  own. 

RIDDLE:   Well,  I  agree  with  that. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Just  like  people  who  come  from  other 
countries.   They  love  this  country.   They  come  here  and 
get  a  job  washing  dishes,  doing  anything  they  can,  and 
they  send  their  kids  to  college  and  they  make  it.   I 
realize  we  came  from  slavery.   That's  the  main  thing; 
that's  the  thing  that  holds  us  down.   But  we've  got  to 
stop  thinking  like  that  and  help  our  own  people.   Get  rid 
of  those  bums  up  there,  bring  our  children  up  right,  even 
sacrifice  having  a  new  car  or  having  a  new  house  or 
something  to  take  care  of  your  children  so  that  they  can 
turn  out  to  be  good  people. 

RIDDLE:  Well,  I  agree  with  that,  too.  But,  again,  it's 
like,  to  me,  our  neurosis  is  so  deep  as  a  race  of  people 
and  we're  so  unorganized  to  the  challenge  that  she  just 
brought  up--  Why  do  we  put  our  own  children  down  if  they 
try  to  do  well  in  school?  I  mean,  you've  got  black  kids 
who  are  closet  scholars.  They  go  home  and  study  like  the 
dickens,  but  when  they  get  to  school,  they  try  to  act  like 


their  peers,  because  it's  an  embarrassment  to  be  an  A 
student.  The  expression  is  "Man,  you're  trying  to  be 
white  1"   But  we  condemn  excellence  in  our  own  race. 


JUNE  26,  1993 

RIDDLE:   I  was  just  saying,  though,  that  we  perpetuate — 
I'll  give  you  a  good  example.   They  showed  a  thing  on  TV. 
This  commercial  ran  four  or  five  times  and  disappeared. 
They  said,  "If  Olympic  medals  were  given  out  for  killing, 
the  bronze  would  go  to  the  skinheads."   And  they  showed 
some  skinheads,  and  then  they  had  a  statistic  like 
annually  they're  responsible  for  about  five  hundred  deaths 
a  year.   And  it  said,  "The  silver  would  go--"  And  it 
showed  a  guy  in  a  hood  or  the  Mafia  or  somebody.   And  they 
said,  "They  kill  10  percent  more.   They  kill  about--"  One 
was  three  or  four  hundred,  one  was  three  or  four  thousand. 
They  said,  "But  the  gold  would  go--"  And  they  showed, 
like,  brothers  standing  out  there  with  gold  teeth  and  gold 
around  their  necks  and  muscles  and  crip  and  brim 
paraphernalia,  making  signs.   And  it  showed  we  killed 
thirteen  thousand.   It  started  in  Detroit.   They  ran  that 
commercial.   People  in  Detroit  got  mad  and  said  it  was  a 
racist  commercial  and  it  was  exploitive.   But  it  was  true! 
We  kill  more  people  of  our  own  color,  ourselves,  than  the 
Klan  could  ever  kill.   You'd  have  to  see  thirty  brothers  a 
day  hanging  from  trees  around  the  country  for  the  Klan  to 
match  what  we  do  in  our  own  neighborhoods  amongst 


ourselves.   That's  just  the  people  we  kill,  not  the  ones 
that  are  ruined  for  life  because  of  drug  and  alcohol 
addiction.   Or  the  fact  that  black  male  life  expectancy  in 
America  is  shorter  than  white  women,  white  men,  black 
women.   And  under  Reagan,  we  actually  declined  down  from 
seventy-one  down  into  sixty-nine  plus.   See,  I  mean, 
that's  real  to  me.   It's  like  Carmen  said,  a  lot  of  it  is 
our  own  doing  on  each  other  and  on  ourselves.   But  Frances 
[Cress]  Welsing  said  at  one  time  on  Tony  Brown's  Journal, 
years  ago,  "The  greatest  mental  problem  in  America  is 
black  people."   We're  a  bunch  of  neurotic  people,  and  we 
blame  other  people  for  our  problems,  which  gives  us  an 
excuse,  in  our  own  minds,  to  perpetuate  the  negativity  in 
ourselves  rather  than  to  say,  like  you  have  to  do  when  you 
go  to  AA  [Alcoholics  Anonymous]  or  Drugs  Anonymous-- 
First,  you've  got  to  admit  that  you've  got  a  problem. 
"Something's  wrong  with  me."   And  then  you  can  begin  to 
clean  it  up.   But  as  long  as  you  defer  what's  wrong  with 
you  to  the  white  man,  to  an  unfair  society,  to  this  and 
that,  to  all  those  excuses,  that  allows  you  to  wallow  in 
your  own  negative  juices  until  you  just  boil  away.   And  I 
understand  all  that. 

The  reason  I  got  into  art--into  this  kind  of  art--was 
because  I  felt  that--  Somebody  said,  Bobby  Seale  or 
somebody  said,  "The  importance  of  raising  black 


consciousness--"  That's  what  the  black  social 
consciousness  movement  was  about,  black  nationalism,  black 
this,  black  that,  black  is  beautiful.   All  of  that's  about 
raising  black  consciousness  out  of  this  stew  of 
negativism.   So  to  me,  if  black  people--  If  I  can  help 
that  one  iota  by  letting  my  black  art  be  about  the  things 
that  I  see  that  are  very  wrong  in  this  system,  then  I'll 
paint  a  picture,  eventually,  called  "The  Party."   And  at 
that  party  are  going  to  be  all  the  people,  the  judges,  the 
bailiffs,  the  designers,  planners,  all  those  people  I  said 
that  are  involved  in  the  criminal  justice  system.   They're 
all  going  to  be  drinking  cocktails  and  standing  around 
chitchatting,  and  all  the  waiters  will  be  in  prison  suits. 
MASON:   That  would  be  a  great  one. 

RIDDLE:   I  mean,  I've  already  got  it  in  my  head.   Maybe 
nobody  will  buy  it. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He's  a  current  event  artist,  because  he's 
a  news  fanatic.   And  every  day  he  gets  ideas  for  different 
stuff-   If  he  could  do  it,  he'd  probably  do  current  events 
every  single  day. 

RIDDLE:   Uh-huh.   I  used  to  think  about  where  do  you  stop 
on  the  line  between  editorial  cartooning  and  fine  art. 
Because  you  have  to  take  the  essence  of  editorial  cartoon, 
but  you  have  to,  to  me,  transfer  it  over  into  color  and 
composition  and  symbolism  arrangement  that  makes  it  fine 


art.   And  you  try  not  to  editorialize,  but  you're  trying 
to  let  people  know,   I  mean,  for  instance,  one  day  we  were 
talking  about  the  middle  passage,  which  is  one  of  my 
favorite  subjects.   But  people  may  not  want  it  on  their 
walls.   But  I  think  if  they  could  go  down  with  those 
vacuums--  They  look  for  lost  coins  from  the  Spanish 
Armadas  and  all  of  that,  and  they  find  these  treasures. 
If  they  went  down  with  one  of  those  vacuums  and  vacuumed 
the  path  from  Goree  Island  to  the  Western  Hemisphere, 
there's  probably  a  twenty-mile-wide  trail  of  bones  that 
are  just  from  all  the  people  that  jumped,  fell,  died,  and 
were  thrown  overboard  between  Africa  and  the  United 
States.   One  guy,  we  were  talking  about  it  one  day,  he 
said,  "Yeah,  I  can  just  see  those  bones  like  cross  ties  on 
a  railroad  track."   But  there  must  be--  They  said  that  the 
sharks  followed  the  slave  ships  from  Goree  Island  all  the 
way  to  the  United  States,  to  Central  America,  to  the 
Caribbean,  wherever  the  route  actually  was,  because  there 
was  always  food  because  they  were  always  throwing  black 
folk  over.   And  the  ship  would  carry  an  average  of  134 
people.   About  10  to  15  percent  of  the  cargo  would  die. 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Did  you  see  his  ship  in  the  Golden  State 
[Mutual  Life  Insurance  Company  collection]? 
MASON:   I  probably  did,  but  that  was  so  long  ago. 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh,  that's  so  great.   Great.   Have  you 


seen  that  collection? 

MASON:   Yeah,  but  it  was  when  I  first  got  out  here,  like 

in  '87. 

RIDDLE:   I  think  Bill  [Cosby  Jr.]  took  that. 


RIDDLE:   Bill  said  something  about  he  had  that  at  this 

house . 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh,  really? 

MASON:   Yeah,  there  were  some  things  he  kept. 

RIDDLE:   He  made  a  trade. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Oh,  because  that  ship  he  did  was 

fantastic.   Don't  you  have  any  pictures  of  that  ship? 

RIDDLE:   This  one  day  a  guy  sold  me  a  thousand  springs, 

little  springs  about  this  big  around,  about  that  tall, 

about  as  big  around  as  your  thumb.   And  I  said,  "I'm  going 

to  make  these  into  people  and  pack  them  into  the  bottom  of 

this  hull  of  a  ship." 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   That  was  fantastic.   How  big  was  it? 

RIDDLE:   That  was  in  my  coffee-table  art  days.   See,  I 

said  if  you  could  sell  art  the  size  of  people's  coffee 

tables,  they'll  buy  it. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   He  did  some  good  art,  really  good  art. 

RIDDLE:   So  that  was  the  middle  [passage].   That's  when  I 

first  started  liking —  I've  always  been  fascinated  by  the 

middle  passage.   Because  in  grammar  school,  they  always 


talked  about  the  explorers,  and  they  always  talked  about 
the  old  sailing  ships  and  how  there  was  always  like  scurvy 
and  beriberi.   And  they  named  all  these  old-time,  maritime 
diseases  that  came  about  because  there  wasn't  adequate 
refrigeration  on  ships  in  those  days.   And  people  had  to 
eat  petrified  meat  and  biscuits  with  weevils  in  them.   I 
mean,  they  painted  this  horrible  picture.   They  didn't 
have  fresh  water.   The  conditions  were  bad  and  people 
died.   And  then  you  think  about  in  those  same  days,  in 
those  same  conditions,  back  in  the  1600s,  black  folk  were 
packed  in  ships.   And  they  show  you  those  diagrams  where 
they  pack  them  like  sardines  to  get  the  maximum  amount  of 
cargo  to  offset  the  death  and  the  travel.   And  you  think, 
"Did  they  die  of  scurvy?   Did  they  die  of  beriberi?"   I 
mean,  they  couldn't  even  come  up  on  deck.   At  least  the 
sailors  got  to  be  up  on  deck  and  breathe  fresh  air,  and 
they  had  to  breathe,  you  know--  And  how  many  millions  of 
people  died,  and  how  many  millions  of  ideas,  and  how  much 
creativity,  and  how  much  of  the  future  of  the  planet  is  on 
the  bottom  of  the  ocean.   Because  all  it  was  was  slave 
cargo;  it  wasn't  thinking  people. 

Then  when  you  transfer  that  up  into  the  Statue  of 
Liberty,  still  thinking  about  those  ships,  and  here  come 
all  these  crackers- -excuse  me  for  saying  that--all  these 
Europeans.   I'll  be  nicer  about  it.   And  "Send  us  your 


huddled  masses."   Well,  they  had  twelve  million  black 
people  still  sitting  around,  disenfranchised  from  the 
Civil  War.   They  could  have  brought  those  people  to 
Detroit  at  the  beginning  of  the  Industrial  Revolution,  and 
used  their  brains  in  manufacturing  and  design.   We 
wouldn't  have  a  problem  right  now.   But  instead,  they  went 
and  got  twelve  million  more  white  people  and  they  brought 
trade  unionism  with  them.   And  they  didn't  let  blacks  in 
the  trade  union.   So  all  of  a  sudden  now,  the  people  who 
built  the  country  can't  be  plumbers,  can't  be  carpenters, 
can't  be  brick  masons,  can't  be  any  of  the  builders  that 
they  were  originally  brought  over  here  to  do,  and  they  did 
a  good  job. 

That's  why  they  showed,  last  night,  black  folk 
raising  hell  on  those  construction  sites  in  Los  Angeles 
after  this  most  recent  riot  or  revolution  or  uprising-- 
whatever  you  want  to  call  it.   They  refused  to  let 
Mexicans  and  Orientals  and  white  people  come  in  and 
rebuild  our  community.   They  said,  "If  blacks  don't  work, 
nobody  works."   White  folks  are  getting  all  upset.   Well, 
why  should  they  get  to  come  in  and  build?   Let  the  black 
folk  get  the  money  to  build  it  up.   Like  one  guy  said, 
they'll  have  more  respect  for  the  property  because  they'll 
know  they  built  it  and  they'll  have  better  living 
conditions  for  a  few  years  and  they'll  increase  their 


skill  levels.   I  mean,  the  last  time  we  had  full 
employment  was  slavery.   See,  and  I  can't  put  that  out  of 
my  mind  to  paint  rosy  pictures.   I  mean,  I  could,  but  I 
don't  want  to. 

MASON:   Well,  you  worked  with  kids  for  a  while  in  Los 
Angeles  and  also  here.   How  did  your  ideas  come  out  in 
your  teaching  and  working  with  children? 
RIDDLE:   Well,  as  an  artist,  you  know--  One  thing  good 
about  being  an  artist  that  I've  found  over  the  years  is 
that  you're  involved  in  problem  solving,  even  if  it's 
where  does  red  and  blue  and  green  go  on  a  picture-   I 
mean,  it's  still  constantly  making  decisions,  trying  to-- 
If  it's  manipulative  art,  like  physical  pieces,  what  goes 
here?   There?   What  comes  over  here?   The  relationship 
between  the  objects.   I  mean,  you're  dealing  with  that  all 
the  time.   So  when  you're  dealing  with  kids,  they're — 
Youth  is  hope.   So  youth  is  optimism  from  birth  and  an 
early  understanding--  You  look  into  little  kid's  eyes, 
little  babies'  eyes.   They've  got  perfectly  white--and 
perfectly  dark  pupils  around  that  white.   Big,  shiny  eyes. 
They're  not  full  of  any  kind  of  bitterness.   They 
represent  the  optimum  opportunity  for  evolution  to  the 
highest  level  they  can  acquire.   And  somewhere  along  the 
way,  we  begin  to  erode  that  and  destroy  that  and  turn  them 
into  pessimistic  people,  like  I  may  be  right  now.   So  you 


can't  afford  to  deal  with  that  with  young  people.   Because 
if  they're  going  to  get  influenced  by  it,  it  will  happen 
anyway,  but  it  shouldn't  be  your  fault.   So  you  should 
then  deal  with  them  with  enthusiasm,  with  hope,  with- -as 
corny  as  it  sounds-- Jesse  [L.]  Jackson's  "You  are 
somebody. "   You  instill  in  them  the  confidence  that  they 
can  be  whatever  they  want  to  be  if  they'll  understand  that 
nothing  that  you  ever  achieve,  that  is  worthwhile,  comes 
without  hard  work  [and]  sacrifice.   There's  certain 
formulas  that  you  have  to  concoct  and  master  before  you 
can  be  successful.   Success,  if  it  was  easy,  everybody 
would  be  successful.   But  everybody  has  the  potential  for 
success.   But  when  you  run  into  these  hurdles, 
distractions,  roadblocks,  things  that  would  deflect  you 
off  into  a  more  negative  state,  at  that  point  you  need  to 
be  aware  that  it's  coming  and  be  prepared  to  deal  with  it 
so  that  you  can  get  past  that  and  get  a  little  bit  further 
in  your  evolution  to  the  betterment  of  yourself.   So  you 
inculcate  a  philosophy  of  enthusiasm,  of  enjoying  life,  of 
not  to  be  distracted. 

That  you  get  to  a  certain  age  and  you  go  from  a  non- 
sexual person  to  a  person  who's  considering  having  to  deal 
with  the  impulses  and  energies  of  sex  and  love  and  all 
that--a  different  kind  of  love  than  hugging  a  [stuffed] 
bunny,  which  is  love--  But  the  bunny  doesn't  even  give 


love  back,  when  you  think  about  it,  because  it's  an 
inanimate  object.   But  yet  you  give  so  much  love  to  that 
little  fuzzy  animal  when  you're  a  kid  that  there's  an 
inference  that  that  little  fuzzy  animal  is  giving  love 
back  to  you,  because  it's  unconditional  love  from  you.   So 
you  try  to  keep  unconditional  love  intact  while  you're 
instilling  other  principles  of  confidence  and  things  so 
that  person  can  build  a  stronger  foundation. 

So  in  school  teaching,  the  material  you  teach  is  just 
a  vehicle  to  try  to  put  those  concrete  concepts  into  a 
person.   You  take  their  guard  down  with  a  piece  of  clay. 
And  while  they're  involved  in  this  state  of  concentrating 
on  the  clay,  then  you  can  impart  those  more  concrete  ideas 
into  them,  because  they're  not  resisting.   It's  like  you 
get  lost.   In  Zen,  lost  is  found.   So  you  get  this  person 
to  be  so  involved  in  their  art  that  they  get  lost .   And 
then  concepts  of  finding  who  they  are,  what  they  are,  what 
they  need  to  do,  emerge  out  of  that  defenseless  state  when 
their  subconscious  is  wide  open. 

MASON:   Yeah.   I  remember  Noah  talking  about  that.   And 
so,  now,  the  way  you  explain  it,  I  understand  a  lot 

RIDDLE:   We  used  to  discuss  that.   I  mean,  we  used  to 
discuss  all  these  things  in  bits  and  pieces.   And  then, 
when  you  take  these  bits  and  pieces  and  go  back  into  art, 


then  when  you  get  lost,  some  of  these  things  that  have 
been  planted  in  your  subconscious,  which  you  don't  see  a 
connection  between  them,  then  some  of  those  fall  into 
place.   And  then,  that  way,  you  go  a  little  bit  further  in 
how  you  see  things.   So  that's  how  you  keep,  basically, 
the  bitterness  that  you  might  have  away  from  people  that 
you're  charged  with  the  responsibility  of  trying  to,  so- 
called,  "teach." 

MASON:   Yeah.   Let's  see.   Were  you  involved  in  that--? 
There  was  a  peace  project  for  Vietnam  or  against  Vietnam 
in  like  '65  or  something  like  that? 

RIDDLE:   Not  really.   I  mean,  other  than  I  used  to  do  art 
about  the  war.   Some  of  my  art  I  enjoyed  the  most-- 
eventually  it  sold,  too--was  anti-war  art.   I  remember 
[Richard  M.]  Nixon  came  out  with  the  gradual  plan  called 
"gradual  peace  withdrawal."   And  I  remember  doing  a 
picture  with  a  completely  disemboweled  part  of  a  soldier. 
To  me,  the  fact  that  they  were  still  killing  and  being 
killed,  that  was  a  form  of  gradual  troop  withdrawal,  too. 
Because  everybody  who  got  killed  or  wounded  got  withdrawn. 
It  wasn't  like  every  month  we're  going  to  reduce  the 
American  military  involvement  by  10,000  men.   That  might 
be  true  over  here,  but  they're  also  reducing  it  by  270 
killed  and  wounded  every  month,  too.   So  [Henry  A.] 
Kissinger's,  "Peace  is  at  hand"--  When  he  made  that 


statement  was  the  same  speech  where  he  made--  That  was  the 
same  day,  which  was  a  Christmas  Eve  or  Christmas  Day,  some 
irrational  day,  where  they  started  the  bombing  of  Hanoi 
with  the  B-52  bomber.   I  remember  I  found  an  old  bomb  in  a 
surplus  store  one  day.   I  dismantled  it,  and  then  I  made  a 
cast  of  a  hand,  and  I  cut  the  hand  all  up  in  pieces.   So 
it  went  from  "Peace  is  at  hand"  and  it  became  Pieces  of 
Hand  with  the  bombs  falling  on  a  yellow  hand  and 
fragmenting  it.   Because  there's  always--like  Carmen  says 
about  the  news- -an  irony. 

That's  like  go  back  to  the  Haitians.   The  Haitians 
can't  come  in.   And  here  these  people--  We  prop  up 
dictatorial  governments  from  Papa  Doc  [Duvalier]  right  up 
till  now.   Those  people  live  in  horrible  conditions.   And 
when  they  go  back,  they  beat  them  and  stuff,  you  know. 
And  yet  they  say,  "No,  you're  not  political  refugees." 
And  yet  these  people  that  could  blow  up  the  World  Trade 
Center,  they  can  come  here;  boatloads  of  Chinese  can  come, 
be  falling  all  out  of  boats  at  night  and  drowning  in  the 
New  York  harbor;  millions  of  Hispanics  from--  Used  to  be 
just  Mexicans,  but  now  it's  probably  as  far  down  as  the 
tip  of  Argentina. 

CARMEN  RIDDLE:   Boy,  Los  Angeles  is  all  Hispanics. 
RIDDLE:   But  it's  economics.   It's  because  they  can  hire 
those  people;  they  don't  pay  taxes.   I  mean,  that  showed 


up  when  Clinton  was  trying  to  make  a  point.   They  don't 
pay  taxes;  they  don't  pay  any  of  that.   And  yet,  they  get 
these  people  for  one- third  or  one- fourth  of  what  they 
could  get  somebody  else  for.   And  again,  that  impacts 
directly  on--  They  say,  "Blacks  don't  want  to  work  for 
minimum  wage."   You  know,  "Blacks  don't  want  to  work  for 
four  dollars  an  hour."   But  they  can  get  these  Hispanics 
for  one  dollar  an  hour.   They  wouldn't  hire  a  black  for 
four  dollars  an  hour  if  they  could,  if  they  could  get  four 
Hispanics.   They've  got  all  these  illegal  aliens;  they 
don't  try  to  stop  them.   They  say,  "Well,  there  are 
millions.   We  can't  do  anything  about  it."   They  could 
arrest  the  people  who  have  these  sweat  factories  where 
they  work.   Say,  "Factory  closed,  you've  got  illegal 
aliens  in  here.   Give  me  that  house,  you've  cheated  the 
IRS  [Internal  Revenue  Service]  for  ten  years  on  taxes."   I 
mean,  they've  got  laws,  if  they  want  you.   That's  what 
they  got  Marcus  Garvey  for.   You  know,  they  can  go  get 
Marcus  Garvey,  but  they  can't  go  get  Julia  Steinmetz, 
who's  got  five  hundred  people  working  illegally  in  a  shoe 

MASON:   Who  was  that? 

RIDDLE:   Anybody.   I'm  just  making  up  names. 
MASON:   Oh,  I  get  it. 
CARMEN  RIDDLE:   I  haven't  heard  that  one. 


RIDDLE:   There's  probably  some  guy  who's  got  some  factory 
full  of  Chinese  and  Mexicans.   You  know,  I'm  not  being  a 
racist  on  them.   They're  trying  to  make  it,  too.   But, 
you  know,  put  Eastern  Airlines  back  in  business  by 
grabbing  up  these  people  who  don't  belong  here.   Fly  them 
back  to  Mexico.   Eastern  wouldn't  have  gone  out  of 
business  if  they  had  just  had  the  job  from  the  government 
flying  these  illegals.   Why  should  we  pay  for  them  to  go 
to  school?   We  pay  for  their  hospitalization.   We  pay  all 
the  taxes  while  the  people  who  get  to  go  live  and  be  on 
Robin  Leach,  [Lifestyles  ofl  the  Rich  and  Famous,  are 
skimping.   That's  not  right.   Anyway,  that's-- 
MASON:   Yeah.   Let's  see.   Well,  did  you  want  to  say 
anything  about  the  Black  Arts  Council? 

RIDDLE:   No.   Looking  on  here,  I  just  remembered  that 
those  were--  Basically,  we  discussed  them  when  we  talked 
about  the  artists  getting  together  and  talking  and 
discussing  things.   I  mean,  any  black  organization,  to 
me,  that  promotes  black  unity  or  culture  or  cooperation — 
friendship--is  a  valid  black  organization.   Anything  that 
has  as  its  by-product- -or  its  direct  product--positivism 
is  a  valuable  black  organization.   Where  they  run  into 
trouble  is  when  they  start  dealing  with  f Robert ' s 1  Rules 
of  Order  and  who's  got  the  money.   "Who's  collecting  the 
money  and  the  dues?"   And  then  they  get  to  fighting.   But 


other  than  that,  I  mean,  I  don't  have  any  problem  with 
any  black  organization  that's  trying  to  do  something 
positive  for  our  race,  because  we  don't  have  enough  of 
it.  [tape  recorder  off] 

We  did  a  thing  about  the  Black  Arts  Council.   We 
just  did  what  they  accomplished,  in  a  way.   And  then  it 
says  about  the  Ankrum  Gallery  and  the  Brand  Library- - 
Yeah,  there  were  always  enough  venues  to  exhibit.   If  you 
had  art,  there  would  be  some  galleries  like--  In  fact,  I 
exhibited  at  the  Heritage  Gallery.   That  was  when  Bill 
Cosby  first  bought  some  of  my  art.   And  there  was  art  at 
Brockman.   There  were  always  enough  places  to  show- -I 
mean,  if  you  did  art--and  it's  still  the  case  now.   If 
you  do  enough  art,  and  you  refuse  to  show  just  old  art, 
there's  always  a  place  to  show  some  art. 

It's  just  like  in  that  movie  about  the  baseball 
field,  Field  of  Dreams,  and  a  guy  said--they  make  fun  of 
it  now--  This  voice  kept  telling  this  guy  out  in  the 
middle  of  an  Iowa  cornfield,  "Build  it  and  they  will 
come,"  which  was  like  a  faith  thing,  you  know.   And  it's 
the  same.   If  you  do  enough  art  even  to  the  point  where 
your  closets  are  bulging  with  art  and  your  storage  spaces 
are  bulging  with  unseen  art,  eventually  an  art  venue  will 
appear  for  you  to  have  a  chance  to  show. 
MASON:   I  guess  I  was  just  asking  that  because  you  often 


hear  that  black  artists  are  excluded  from  the  market  and 
they  are  invisible  as  artists--well,  that's  not  exactly 
the  word-- 

RIDDLE:   Well,  to  me  it  goes  back  to  you  can  make  up 
these  excuses  why  you  don ' t  get  to  show  and  you  don ' t  get 
this  and  you  don't  get  that  and  you  don't  get  funded. 
You  know,  "I  can't  do  art  unless  this  art  council  gives 
me  some  money."   Well,  then  your  overriding  desire  isn't 
to  do  art.   If  your  overriding  desire  is  to  do  visual 
art,  if  you're  a  visual  artist--to  write,  if  you're  a 
writer;  to  dance,  if  you're  a  dancer;  to  write  and  figure 
out  manuscripts  for  plays,  if  you're  a  playwright- -you ' re 
going  to  do  it.   And  eventually  somebody  will  say,  "Wow! 
This  is  good  stuff."   But  if  you  don't  do  it  because  you 
don't  see  the  venue  or  the  outlet  [up]  front,  then  what 
does  it  matter  if  you  find  a  producer  or  a  publisher  or 
exhibit  space?   You  don't  have  no  art;  you  ain't  got 
nothing  to  show  anyway-   So  I  think  the  more  important 
thing  is  to  do  the  art.   And  don't  worry,  just  do  the 
best  creative  work  you  can  do  and,  eventually,  it  will  be 
seen.   Do  it  and  it  will  be  shown,  like  "Build  it  and 
they  will  come." 

MASON:  I  guess  there  is  also  that  romantic  idea  that, 
well,  if  black  artists  didn't  have  the  market  to  worry 
about,  then  their  art  would  be  somehow  more  spontaneous 


or  more  this--  Whereas  white  artists,  they  always  had 
kind  of  a  market  in  the  back  of  their  minds,  and  so  their 
work  tends  to  be  more-- 

RIDDLE:   Yeah.   That's  kind  of  like  a  generalization, 
because--  I  like  to  put  it  in  perspective.   You  think 
about  the  life  of  Van  Gogh,  who  supposedly  never  sold  a 
piece  of  art  in  his  lifetime,  and  now  his  work  is 
priceless.   So  the  real  issue  is,  if  Van  Gogh  had  said, 
"Well,  I'm  never  going  to  get  to  sell  a  piece  of  art  in 
my  life;  therefore,  I'm  not  going  to  do  art,"  there 
wouldn't  be  Van  Gogh.   So  I  think  the  white  artists  have 
just  as  hard  a  time  as  the  black  artists.   I  mean, 
they're  white  artists  who--  You  don't  have  to  like  the 
work  of  [Andy]  Warhol  or  somebody  who  just  happened  to 
hit  the  right  place  at  that  right  time  with  art.   But 
that's  no  different  than  when  World  War  II  started: 
Churchill  was  in  England,  Stalin  was  in  Russia,  Roosevelt 
was  here.  Hitler  was  in  Germany,  Mussolini  was  in--  You 
know,  great  leaders  all  at  one  time,  because  the  time 
required  great  leaders,  because  it  was  a  tumultuous  time 
in  the  world.   Always,  there  are  people  who  are  in  the 
right  place  at  the  right  time  in  history  that  they  become 
the  acknowledged  people. 

There's  a  question  in  one  of  your  things  about 
Stokely  Carmichael  and  Willy  Ricks.   And  I'm  always 


amazed  how  Willy  Ricks  was  the  person  who  basically 
coined  the  phrase  "black  power, "  but  Stokely  Carmichael 
is  the  one  who  said  it  at  the  right  place  and  the  right 
time  and  it  was  picked  up  on  the  national  air  waves.   And 
Stokely  Carmichael  became  the  main  SNCC  [Student 
Nonviolent  Coordinating  Committee]  advocate  for  black 
power.   But  look  how  many  people  got  busted  upside  the 
head,  squirted  with  water  hoses,  bitten  by  dogs,  jailed 
by  a  status  quo  system,  law  enforcement  and  stuff,  before 
Stokely,  before  Willy  Ricks.   But  as  the  thing  peaked  to 
a  zenith  there  at  the  right  place,  the  right  time,  the 
right  man  saying  it,  he  became  a  celebrity.   Willy  Ricks 
is  still  alive.   But  Willy  Ricks  said  things  to  me  that-- 
Like,  he's  the  one  who  said  the  role  of  the  student  in 
the  struggle  is  to  learn,  study,  get  as  smart  as  they 
can,  and  then  articulate  the  contradiction.   And  I  still 
remember  him  saying  that,  because  it  made  sense. 

Willy  Ricks  is  the  one  I  first  heard  say--  Well, 
I'll  tell  you  another  one.   Like  one  of  my  oldest  sons 
[Anthony  Thomas  Riddle]  said--  This  had  stuck  because  he 
had  said  it  at  the  right  time.   Tony  Riddle  said, 
"Lifestyle  begins  where  rhetoric  ends."   So  you  can  talk 
about  it,  but  when  you  take  that  action  step,  that 
becomes  lifestyle.   All  that  other  stuff  is  rhetoric. 
And  that's  a  big  problem  with  black  people,  too.   We 


talk,  "Man,  the  white  man!   The  white  man!   The  white 
man!"   Well,  if  you  know  it's  the  white,  why  do  we 
continue  to  let  the  white  man  rule?   Why  don't  we  begin 
some  self-rule?   If  we  know  the  white  man  is  not  doing 
things  in  our  best  interest,  which  is  natural  anyway, 
because  everybody  in  America  is  trying  to  get  the  best 
they  can--  So  the  white  man's  not  going  to  say,  "Well, 
we've  got  to  sacrifice  and  give  something  to  these  black 
folk."   Then  black  folk  make  enough  money  collectively  to 
do  for  self.   Just  like  the  Honorable  Elijah  Muhammad--  A 
lot  of  people  say,  "Well,  Elijah  Muhammad,  he's  just  an 
old  fanatic  racist  clothed  in  Islam.   He  ain't  talking 
about  nothing."   But  at  least  he  spoke  to  do  for  self, 
which  is  a  good  concept. 

You  know,  we  don't  have  grocery  stores.   But  the 
people  who  sell  hair  products,  fine  cars  like  Cadillacs 
and  things--  You  look  in  the  black  enterprise  one  hundred 
top  corporations,  and  you  see  what  kind  of  products  they 
do.   And  then  you  go  look  at  Fortune  500--the  few  blacks 
that  are  in  the  Fortune  500--Johnson  Publishing,  hair 
products  people,  Cadillac  dealerships.   But  they're 
catering  goods  and  services  to  black  people 
professionally.   And  there's  enough  black  money  out  there 
to  be  wealthy  if  you  give  black  people  goods  and  services. 
But  we  don't  support  each  other.   "Man,  I  ain't  giving  no 


money  to  no  nigger.   All  they  do  is  do  you  wrong."   I 
mean,  we  don't  like  ourselves,  so  we  don't  like  people  who 
look  like  us.   So  we  suffer  as  a  race  and  then  we  blame  it 
on  the  white  man.   We've  got  to  blame  that  on  ourselves. 
Now,  I  don't  even  know  what  that  question  was  about, 
[laughter]   You  have  to  stop  me,  because  I  will  ramble  on. 

I  didn't  know  what  "cultural  nationalism"  was.   I 
just  didn't-- 

^4AS0N:   Oh,  what  we  talked  about  between--  I  asked  you  if 
there  were  artists  who  were  interested  in  what  the  [Black] 
Panthers  were  saying,  because  you  went  through  the  Bobby 
Seale  book.  Seize  the  Time,  versus  Ron  Karenga ' s  version 
of  cultural  nationalism.   And  you  were  saying  that,  you 
know,  black  people  need  both,  they  need  Martin  [Luther 
King,  Jr.]  and--  But  I  was  just  wondering,  if  you  knew-- 
Do  you  know  any  artists  who  actually  studied  under  Ron 

RIDDLE:   Not  under  Ron.   But  I  used  to  know  some  people 
who  were  inf luenced--I  mean,  I'm  one  myself--indirectly 
and  directly  from  being  involved  in  the  Black  Panther 
Party.   Because  that  was  a  cultural--  It's  like  Emory 
Douglas  and  that  paper  [California  Eagle] .   But  see,  that 
paper  at  one  time,  it  was  probably  the  largest  circulation 
of  a  black  newspaper  in  California.   It  probably  went  to 
other  states,  too.   But  the  Black  Panther  Party  paper  had 


at  one  time  a  circulation  of  like  three  or  four  hundred 
thousand  a  week,  and  it  was  a  major  organ  in  their 
fundraising  activity,  too.   They  had  people  on  the  streets 
selling  the  party  paper,  and  they  weren't  goofing  the 
money  off.   I  mean,  the  money  was  going  to  support  Panther 
Party  programs  rather  than  "Here's  a  pile  of  money.   Let's 
everybody  rip  some  off." 

And  at  one  time,  it  was  a  very  good  organization,  but 
its  premise  of  militarism--the  police  aren't  going  to  ever 
let  that  stand.   You  can  have  Aryan  nation,  you  could  have 
all  these  white  supremacists  and  ultra  right-wing  groups 
that  can  arm  themselves  to  the  teeth,  but  you  let  some 
black  folks  start  arming  and  all  the  paranoia  and  guilt  of 
hundreds  of  years  of  knowing  that  they've  done  black 
people  wrong  and  that  black  people  would  surely,  if  given 
the  opportunity,  wreak  revenge  on  them  in  like  manner,  the 
way  they've  treated  black  people  in  America--  See,  because 
that  scares  the  hell  out  of  white  people. 

MASON:   No,  but  they  liked  that.   I  mean,  because  with  the 
Panthers  and  stuff,  the  students  were  like  "Oh,  wow!" 
RIDDLE:   But  it's  not  enough  of  a--  That's  like  a 
rejection  of  their  parents  and  the  existent  culture.   But 
like  for  most  of  them,  if  it  comes  down  to  assuming  the 
life  of  a  black  person,  the  lifestyle  of  a  black  person, 
in  the  gun  sights  of  the  FBI  [Federal  Bureau  of 


Investigation]  or  the  CIA  [Central  Intelligence  Agency] 
and  the  local  authorities  and  clandestine  operations 
against  you  and  threats  of  jail  from  every  way  that  they 
can  get  you,  from  tax  evasion  to  something  that  you  might 
have  actually  done  illegal,  they  don't  want  that.   It's  a 
very,  very  hard,  stressful  lifestyle.   And  those 
underground  white  organizations  at  the  time,  like  the 
Weathermen  and  Tom  Hayden,  the  guy  who  was  married  to  Jane 
Fonda,  they  affiliated  on  one  level  with  blacks,  but  they 
had  their  own  agenda. 

I  mean,  it's  just  like,  as  cold  as  it  sounds,  the 
white  woman's  liberation  movement.   It  wasn't  so  much 
about  the  black  sisters  getting  some  equality;  the  white 
women  wanted  to  be  higher  in  the  corporate  structure  than 
they  had  been  allowed  to  go.   They  wanted  some  of  the  jobs 
that  had  been  reserved  exclusively  for  white  men  to  roll 
over  to  white  women,  whether  it  was  on  the  police  forces, 
whether  it  was  in  areas  where  only  white  men  had  done  the 
work  before.   It  wasn't  like  they  said,  "Well,  once  we 
break  this  door  down,  come  on,  black  sisters,  you're 
coming  with  us!"   Them  white  women  didn't  care  nothing 
about  that.   They  didn't  then,  and  they  don't  now. 
MASON:   It's  the  same  with  black  women  during  slavery. 
Sometimes  there  was  a  split  between  women's  suffrage  and 
[inaudible].   It's  like  why  should  we  expect  white  women 


to  be  different  than  white  men? 

RIDDLE:   And  there's  good  people.   I  mean- -like,  you  know, 
since  you  brought  up  the  slavery  time- -those  abolitionists. 
They  were  real,  because  they  subjected  themselves  to  harsh 
punishment.   John  Brown,  I  mean,  he  died.   They  say,  "Well, 
John  Brown,  he  was  a  fanatic."   But  what  was  he  a  fanatic 
about?   About  freedom.   I  heard  somebody  the  other  day  on 
the  news  talking  about--  Well,  they  were  talking  about 
these  Sudanese  who  just  got  arrested  in  New  York.   And  they 
were  saying  they  were  using  terrorist  tactics  to  try  to 
take  greater  control  of  the  country.   It  was  D'Amato  or 
[Alphonse]  D'Amato  in  New  York,  or  whatever  his  name  is. 
And  I  was  thinking,  "Wait  a  minute."   What  he  was  saying 
was--  If  you  applied  what  he  said  to  how  the  Americans  did 
the  Indians,  there  was  no  difference.   None. 

Like,  yesterday.  South  African  extremists  went  into 
the  meeting  with  [Frederik  W.]  de  Klerk,  [Nelson  R.] 
Mandela,  and  [Mangosuthu  G.]  Buthelezi,  where  they  were 
trying  to  talk  about  transference  of  South  Africa's 
government  to  a  majority  rule.   These  crackers  came  in 
there  with  their  guns,  with  their  camouflage  suits,  bust 
the  windows  out  of  the  building  and  stormed  the  meeting. 
But  yet,  in  Soweto,  they  can  gun  down  sixty-nine  or 
seventy--  Or  like  in  South  Sharpsville  or  some  other 
place.   They  can  gun  down  hundreds  of  black  people  just 


for  being  out  there  protesting.   No  guns.   Nothing.   Just 
gun  them  down,  have  a  massacre.   But  when  these  crackers 
show  up  talking  about  how  they're  going  to  overthrow  the 
government  and  they've  got  guns  and  they're  breaking  up 
government  property,  there's  not  a  shot  fired. 

The  same  way  in  Sarajevo.   The  United  States  and 
France  and  Britain,  they  are  not  going  into  another 
country  and  kill  white  people.   They'll  go  into  Somalia 
and  kill  black  people,  like  they  went  into  Vietnam  and 
killed  black  people.   Like  they'll  go  into  Nicaragua  and 
kill  black  people.   Like  they'll  go  into  Panama  and  kill 
black  people.   But  they  are  not  going  into  a  white 
conclave  and  kill  other  white  people.   They  haven't  done 
it  since  the  Second  World  War,  and  they're  not  going  to  do 
it.   And  yet,  they  say  the  Muslims  can't  have  weapons  to 
defend  themselves  against  the  Croats  and  the  Serbians. 
But  it's  all  right  for  the  Serbians  and  the  Croats  to  have 
weapons  to  kill  the  Muslims. 

I  mean,  this  is  going  far  afield,  I  know.   But  see, 
if  you  go  to  the  ultimate  injustice,  Algeria--  They  had  an 
election  this  year.   The  fundamentalist  Muslims  in  Algeria 
won  a  legitimate  one-person,  one-vote  election. 
Democracy.   The  army  invalidated  the  elections.   America 
hasn't  said  anything,  because  the  real  thing  is  the  rise 
of  fundamental  Islam  coming  out  of  Iran,  Iraq,  over  there 


where  Muammar  Qaddaf i--another  one  of  the  bad  guys--  All 
these  places  where  fundamentalism  is  on  the  rise- -Egypt, 
all  through  the  Middle  East--America  is  against  it.   But 
it's  a  legitimate  movement.   They  have  enough  people  to 
have  an  influence  over  how  they  want  the  part  of  the  world 
they  live  in  to  be  run.   But  we're  afraid  of 
fundamentalists.   Fundamentalism  is  our  enemy.   We  ain't 
afraid  of  no  fundamentalism  like  Jerry  Falwell  and  some  of 
these  right-wing  wackos,  but  we're  afraid  of  Muslim 
fundamentalism.   So  we  favor  Israel. 

I  mean,  Israel  is  like  an  organ  transplant.   And  the 
only  reason  it  hasn't  been  rejected  by  the  body  that's  the 
Middle  East  is  because  we've  got  so  many  life-support 
systems  going  in  there  to  keep  that  transplanted  organ  in 
that  part  of  the  world  that  it  can't  be  overthrown.   You 
can't  do  that  forever.   It's  like  the  art  we  talked  about. 
It  may  last  one  hundred  years  [but]  it's  deteriorating  all 
the  time.   One  day  the  wall  goes  down;  the  art  got  to  go 
with  it.   Them  Jews  cannot  maintain  an  occupied  territory 
through  the  muzzle  of  a  gun.   They  can  go  get  ten  thousand 
Russians  and  say,  "Now,  you  Jews  kick  some  Arabs  out." 
They  are  not  going  to  be  able  to  maintain  that  narrow, 
shaky  position  for  another  fifty  years. 

It's  the  same  thing  in  South  Africa.   Crackers  be 
talking  about,  "We  want  our  own  country.   We  want 


separatism."   Now,  if  you  thought  about  the  most  logical, 
fair,  and  just  solution  to  that,  you'd  say,  "Okay,  you've 
got  it."   Give  them  the  same  homeland  territory  that  they 
put  them  black  people  on.   It  didn't  have  a  damn  thing  out 
there.   So  yeah,  "You  can  have  Botswana;  you  can  have  this 
little  homeland."   You  know,  they  put  them  black  folk 
where  there  was  no  resources,  where  there  was  no  scenery. 
It  looked  like  they  put  them  in  the  middle  of  Kansas. 
Those  crackers  want  independence,  the  ones  who  want  to 
stay  there.   Say  [to  them],  "Okay.   The  blacks  are  coming 
to  Johannesburg  and  run  the  factories,  and  you  can  have 
that  wasteland  you  gave  them."   That's  fair.   It  was  good 
enough  for  the  blacks  to  have  their  separate  homeland. 
Let  the  crackers  take  it  over  and  see  what  they  can  do 
with  it.   But  they  won't.   They  want  the  gold  mines,  they 
want  the  copper  mines,  they  want  the  shipping  ports.   You 
can't  have  them!   So  they're  going  to  have  a  bloodbath 
there.   And  let  me  tell  you,  when  the  blood  starts 
flowing,  we  ain't  going  to  go  there  and  intervene  until 
you  see  five,  six,  seven  hundred  white  folk  a  day  dying. 
They'll  say,  "Oh,  stop!   Something's  got  to  be  done."   But 
as  long  as  they  see  ten  thousand  black  bodies  a  day,  "Oh, 
we  deplore  the  violence."   But  you  let  them  crackers  start 
getting  killed,  everybody  is  going  to  be  wanting  to  run 
over  there  and  intervene  then.   It's  just  the  way  it  is. 


That's  why  I  guess  I  sound--  Nobody  at  my  house  talks 
to  me  because  I  seem  too  bitter.   [laughter] 
MASON:   Yeah,  we're  in  a  state  of  real  politics  now  where 
Ollie  [Oliver]  North  can  be  called  an  American  hero  for 
breaking  the  law. 
RIDDLE:   Yeah,  and  lying. 
MASON:   But  it's  a  matter  of-- 
RIDDLE:   Just  flat  out  lying. 
MASON:   Yeah. 

RIDDLE:   He  got  on  TV  the  next  night  on  Frontline,  the 
next  night  after  he  got  acquitted,  and  said,  "Yeah,  I've 
got  tapes,"  and  played  the  tapes.   I  sat  right  there  and 
read  all  the  tape  [of]  his  voice.   They  had  like  the  words 
to  go  along  with  the  tape  so  you  could  hear  exactly  what 
he  said.   "Yeah,  Reagan  knew  everything.   Yeah,  I  knew 
everything.   Yeah,  we  knew  everything.   Yeah,  we  did  it." 
Because  he  had  been  acquitted.   Now  he's  running  for 
senator  from  North  Carolina  or  some  damn  place.   I  can't 
believe  it,  boy.   But,  see,  the  white  man's  threatened. 
He's  threatened  in  America  because  the  white  man  is, 
through  his  own  sexual  activity  in  the  past,  becoming 
extinct  himself.   He's  not  going  to  be  a  pure  white  man 
anymore.   That  scared  the  hell  out  of  the  white  man.   But 
there's  nothing  he  can  do  about  it,  because  as  the  world 
shrinks  and  as  people  become  more  interrelated,  there's 


going  to  be  less  and  less  pure  white  blood.   And  white  men 
have  proven  with  their  theories  of  genetics  that  dark 
dominates  white.   You  put  black  and  white  together,  you 
don't  get  white  paint:   you  get  grey.   So  as  the  white 
man--  If  you  put,  like,  Japanese  eyes,  oriental  eyes,  you 
put  slant  and  round,  you  don't  get  round  as  often  as  you 
get  somewhere  between  slant  and  round,  which  is  oval.   So 
it's  like  the  dominant  genes.   You  take  curly  and 
straightm,  you  get  more  curly  than  you  do  straight.   You 
may  get  one  straight,  one  curly,  and  two  mixed.   So  the 
white  man's  gene  isn't  even  the  dominant  gene.   How  the 
hell  does  he  expect  to  be  the  dominant  species  when  he 
doesn't  have  a  dominant  gene? 

MASON:   By  an  imagination  that  can  create  an  atom  bomb. 
RIDDLE:   Well,  that's  that  same--  That's  why  in  Yacub,  he 
was  like  a  mutation  in  that  play,  the  white  man  is  a 
mutation.   He ' s  a  genetic  disease  that's  come  to  afflict 
the  planet. 

MASON:   Oh,  you  mean  that  Muslim  [inaudible]? 
RIDDLE:   Yeah,  Yacub.   So,  I  mean,  it's  not  necessarily 
true.   But  you  look  at  some  of  the  ways  other  cultures-- 
so-called  third-world,  subcultures--view  their 
relationship  to  earth.   It's  like  the  way  we  destroy  the 
rain  forest.   I  mean,  I  haven't  done  any  art  about  that. 
But  it  doesn't  take  a  great  leap  of  imagination  to 


consider  that  the  most  exotic  plants  in  the  world,  some  of 
them  are  in  the  Amazon  region  of  Central  America,  South 
America.   And  who  knows  if  some  of  those  plants--  If  we 
had  as  many  botanists  down  there  as  they  have  low-priced 
labor  cutting  old  growth  trees  and  clear-cutting  the 
Amazon,  who's  to  say  that  that  many  botanists  down  there 
couldn't  have  the  cure  to  AIDS,  cancer,  that  every  major 
medical  affliction  that's  bothering  people  on  the  face  of 
the  planet  couldn't  be,  somehow,  culled  naturally  from  the 
flora  and  fauna  that  exists  down  there? 


JUNE  26,  1993 

RIDDLE:   Actually,  it's  right  next  to  some  of  the  so- 
called  West.   The  Russians  were  excluded  because  they  were 
our  antagonists,  so  they  didn't  get  to  be  the  West.   It's 
the  silliest  thing.   It's  like  saying  the  Middle  East  is 
in  Africa.   You  look  at  parts  of  what  they  call  the  Middle 
East--a  lot  of  that's  Africa.   But  they  don't  want  you  to 
say  Africa,  because  then  you  realize  that  that's  part  of 
the  dark  continent,  the  part  of  the  continent  where  we 
come  from.   So  by  geographically  calling  it  the  Middle 
East,  somehow  it  disassociates  it  from  Africa. 
MASON:   I  think  with  Russia  the  division  was  because  of 
the  church,  the  division  between  the  Catholic  Church  and 
the  Eastern  Orthodox  Church. 

RIDDLE:   To  me,  it's  all  convenient.   It's  like  Western 
art.   What  is  Western--?  When  they  say  Western  art,  they 
go  right  back  and  get  Europe  and  the  United  States.   But 
here's  Haiti  closer  to  the  United  States  than  Europe. 
They  don't  call  Haitian  art  no  Western  art.   It's  Haitian 
art.   Mexico  is  closer  than  Haiti:   Columbian  art.   And 
then  they  named  that  after  Columbus.   Pre-Columbian.   I 
mean,  come  on!   But  yet  they  don't  talk  about  all  the 
black  people  who  came  to  Central  America  and  Mexico 


before  Columbus.   I  mean,  where  did  the  Olmec  heads  come 
from?   Out  of  the  imagination  of  the  indigenous  people? 
Or  were  they  influenced  by  people  who  came  over  on  reed 
boats,  like  the  Ra?   That's  why  Thor  Heyerdahl  didn't  get 
no  glory  after--  As  soon  as  he  docked  that  boat,  I  mean, 
he  started--  He  should  be  an  American  or  Western 
civilization  hero,  because  he  proved  that  you  could  sail 
from  the  mouth  of  the  Nile  with  indigenous  material-- 
material  that  was  local  to  the  region--follow  the  currents 
and  sail  across  the  ocean.   But  they  didn't-- 

Same  with  [Louis  S.]  Leakey.   I  mean,  all  his 
discoveries  in  Africa.   He  should  be  the  most  preeminent 
anthropologist  for  human  remains  on  the  planet.   But  he 
and  his  son  [Richard  E.  Leakey],  they  don't  get  no  real 
glory  like  they  should  because  they  show  the  origins  of 
man  coming  from  the  Rift  Valley  in  Olduvai  Gorge  in 
Tanganyika  rather  than  in  France.   You  know,  so  these 
things  do,  to  me- -maybe  it's  just  personal  prejudice- -but 
they  fly  in  the  face  of  what  Western  civilization  would 
lead  you  to  believe.   "Christ  is  white."   I  mean,  come  on. 
How  could  a  white  Christ  be  in  the  region  that  Christ  is 
supposed  to  have  come  from  where  it  was  inhabited  by 
darker- skinned  people  than  white  people?   So,  to  me,  it's 
all  like  a  grand  game  to  make  you  think  that  you're  not  as 
good  or  as  worthy  as  the  people  who  want  to  control  the 


resources  of  the  earth. 

Like  people  never  think  about  England.   To  me, 
England  is  worse  than  Hitler,  worse  than  any  of  them, 
because  they  tried  to  conquer  the  world.   They  used  to 
brag,  "The  sun  never  sets  on  the  British  Empire."   I  mean, 
they  couldn't  conquer  China,  so  they  brought  in  drugs. 
Maybe  that ' s  where  the  pattern  for  control  of  black  folk 
in  America  was  drawn.   Make  big  money  and  control--  That's 
why  we  got  mad  at  Malcolm  [X]  when  he  said  that  time,  the 
queen- -whoever  the  queen  was  at  that  time-- [is]  the 
biggest  drug  dealer  in  the  history  of  the  world.   But  it's 
like  they  tried  to  conquer  India.   Look  how  long  they 
controlled  India.   What  right  do  they  have  to  tell  an 
Indian--there  are  many  more  people  in  India  than  there  are 
in  England--that  they  should  be  British?   The  reason  you 
never  hear  why  the  First  World  War  was  fought  is  because 
there  was  fighting  over  Africa.   They  were  kicking  Germany 
out  of  Africa.   They  were  kicking  Germany  out  of  Africa. 
MASON:   But,  I  mean,  in  the  whole  history  of  the  world, 
there's  always  been--  I  mean,  even  if  you  look  at  West 
Africa  and  the  Asante,  I  mean,  they  were  a  powerful 
kingdom  and  they  went  out  and  conquered  other  people.   The 
Romans  and  Alexander  the  Great.   I  mean,  maybe  there  were 
some  Native  American  tribes  who  stayed  at  home.   But  most 
people  seemed  to--  I  don't  know.   They  think  they're  going 


to  run  out  of  resources. 

RIDDLE:   Well,  maybe  man  has  always--like  you  said-- 
History  probably  documents  that  man  has  always  been 
warlike  with  his  neighbors,  aggressive  towards  his 
neighbors  and  territory  and  stuff.   But  I  wasn't  around 
then;  I'm  around  now.   And  I  see  how  since  the  Second 
World  War  that  the  United  States  has  not  fought  a  hot  war 
with  white  people.   I've  seen  us  fight  the  Koreans,  the 
Vietnamese,  the--  Any  kind  of  dark  people  you  can  name, 
we've  fought.   But  we  don't  fight  white  people.   And,  to 
me,  I  don't  like  it. 

I  think  the  whole  war  thing,  military  weaponry, 
trillions  of  dollars  that  we're  in  debt--  That's  welfare 
for  white  people,  because  they've  got  the  jobs  and  the 
technology.   They  make  the  big  checks  for  nuclear  weapons, 
for  warheads,  for  missiles.   I  mean,  you  can't  even  use 
them.   If  you  use  the  stuff,  you  destroy  the  world.   And 
if  you  don't  use  it  beyond  the  blackmail  power  that  it  had 
to  keep  Russia  and  America  from  jumping  on  each  other--and 
then  when  China  got  some,  they  couldn't  jump  on  China-- 
aside  from  that  deterrent  value,  it's  worthless.   What  do 
you  do  with  a  used  warhead?   What  do  you  do  with  ten  tons 
of  deadly  nerve  gas?   What  do  you  do  with  it?   You  can't 
do  nothing  with  it.   You  know,  what  do  you  do  with  a  space 
station--?  They  say,  "Well,  we  might  find  a  cure  for 


cancer  on  a  space  station."   You  take  $15  billion  and  put 
it  into  cancer  research,  you'll  find  a  cure  a  hell  of  a 
lot  quicker. 

But  I  saw  something  out  here  that's  totally 
different.   It's  not  like  any  of  that  at  all.   It's  like 
fresh  air.   You  asked  the  question,  "Would  you  say  more 
about  your  interest  in  bebop?"   And  I  think,  very  briefly, 
that  music--  I  wrote  on  this,  "Jazz  provides  the  thinking 
rhythm  that  goes  with  the  art."   Because  you  don't  have 
to--  It's  an  audio  thing.   It  goes  through  the  ears,  but 
your  hands  and  your  mind  are  still  free  to  work  in 
conjunction  with  what  you  hear  in  the  music.   So  it 
provides  like  an  audio  setting  and  a  rhythmic  energy. 
You're  listening  to  creativity  expressed  a  lot  of  times  on 
the  spot  without  sheet  music- -sometimes  without  rehearsal, 
sometimes  with--but  very  brilliant  ideas  expressed 
audibly.   And  that's  an  inspiration  that  can  allow  you  to 
try  to  express  yourself  visually  the  way  the-- 

That ' s  one  of  the  things,  too,  that's  nice,  that  it's 
usually  groups  of  musicians  working  together,  which  goes 
back  to,  again,  my  romanticized  view  of  everything  of  how 
the  African  artisans  worked  together.   They  followed 
tradition.   They  had  a  basic  structure  that  you  had  to 
adhere  to,  but  you  followed  tradition.   Like  maybe  the 
bebop,  for  instance,  was  a  school,  and  men  who  played 


bebop  worked  within  the  parameters  of  that  school  on  one 
level,  but  they're  always  trying  to  push  the  evolution  of 
the  school  out  the  other  side  into  that  avant-garde  period 
that  you  speak  of,  because  that's  part  of  the  evolution. 
But  there's  a  foundation,  and  then  there's  growth  and 
experimentation  away  from  that  foundation.   And  I  think 
that  that's  closer  to-- 

Maybe  that's  why  black  people  put  together  what  they 
call  black  classical  music,  i.e.,  jazz.   It  came  from  the 
basic  rhythmic  instruments  that  black  people--I  hate  to 
say — invented.   But  I  think  black  rhythmic  music,  even  if 
you  hear  it  played  contemporarily  in  different  countries 
with  those  long  wooden  horns  and  the  drums  and  the 
shekere,    there's  a  rhythm  there  that's  basic.   It's  basic 
all  the  way  through  Elvis  Presley  and  anything  else  you 
want  to  put  together. 

It's  different  from  classical  music,  because  the 
interpretations  of  a  great  classical  pianist  playing  a 
concerto--  They  like  to  say,  "Well,  I  liked  his 
interpretation  and  the  power  he  brings  to  the 
performance."   But  still,  it's  within  the  context  of  the 
repetition  of  those  exact  notes,  you  know,  where  they're 
playing  over  and  over  those  same  notes.   You  might  put  an 
emphasis  here  or  there,  but  basically  you're  not  going  to 
just  take  a  pen  and  write  changes  to  all  the  chords  and 


notes  of  Chopin,  you  know.   But  with  jazz,  you're  allowed 
to  do  that. 

MASON:   And  you  were  saying  with  visual  art,  there  is  no 
classical  music  because  you  are  working  with-- 
RIDDLE:   To  me,  there's  no  rules  for  visual  art. 
MASON:   I  mean,  what  you  were  saying  about  African  art, 
how  it  was  traditional  and-- 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  artifact.   Because  it  wasn't  really 
intended  to  be  art. 
MASON:   Right. 

RIDDLE:   It  was  intended  to  be  ceremonial  and  ritual.   I 
remember  reading  once  in  this  book  about  southern  Africa 
before  the  Boers  and  the  British  and  the  Dutch  and  all 
that.   And  they  were  talking  about  how  to  build  this 
particular  ceremonial  drum.   It  could  only  be  taken  from  a 
tree  that  was  a  certain  age,  a  certain  kind  of  wood,  at  a 
certain  time  of  year.   And  you  had  the  keeper  of  the 
tradition  at  the  top  of  the  hierarchy,  and  you  had  the 
skilled  person  under  him  who  would  take  his  place  when  he 
passed  on  to  the  spiritual  world.   And  down  to  the  very 
bottom  of  these  different  levels  of  drum  makers,  you  had 
the  apprentice  just  learning.   I  got  out  of  that 
particular  story  that  the  making  of  the  drum,  as  closely 
as  it  could  be  made  to  how  the  drum  had  been  made  for 
centuries,  was  much  more  important  than  you  getting  off  in 


a  corner  and  saying,  "Hey,  I've  got  this  new  idea  about 
these  drums."   The  Western  view  is  to  push  the  mainstream 
ever  forward  and  ever  changing,  whereas  artifact  and 
tradition  and  spirituality  was  like  you're  supposed  to  try 
to  maintain  the  tradition.   I  think  jazz  is  like  trying  to 
constantly  create  at  the  edge,  where  classical  is  more  a 
reinterpretation  of  what  was.   Then  I  see  where  art  is 
more  like--  I  don't  see  any  rules  for  art.   Art  is 
anything  you  want  to  do.   In  a  way  it  has,  like, 
traditions,  and  in  another  way,  "anything  goes"  in  art. 
Non-art  is  art. 

I  saw  a  show  once  where  the  guy  didn ' t  have  anything 
hanging  on  the  wall  and  won  a  prize  at  the  Barnsdall  Park. 
Congruent  Reality.   He  had  a  title,  but  there  wasn't 
nothing  hanging  up  there.   And  that  won  a  prize.   So  no 
art  was  art.   On  one  level,  that's  as  far  as  you--  He 
could  only  take  it  one  step  further,  if  he  hadn't  put  a 
title  up  there.   Even  if  he  said  Untitled  it  would  have 
taken  it  a  step  further  than  some  kind  of  make-believe 

MASON:   You  wouldn't  have  this  presence  there  in  the 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  you  wouldn't  even  know  it  was  art.   Only 
the  curator  would  know.   [laughter]   And  then  in  the 
catalog,  they  could  put  something  in  the  catalog,  "Did  you 


notice  that  one  wall  was  blank?"   And  say,  "I  noticed 
that.   Why  did  they  put--?"  The  art  was  there,  but  it  was 
the  ultimate  of  abstract  expressionism- -whatever .   There's 
some  word . 

MASON:   Dematerialization. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah,  yeah.   I  knew  there  was  some  word. 
Dematerialization  of  form.   But  that's-- 

MASON:   Well,  how  did  assemblage  fit  into  not  an  African 
tradition  specifically,  but  an  African  American?   Did  I 
ask  you  how  you  learned  about  African  American  art?   Like 
the  older  artists?   Was  that  like  with  Charles  White? 
RIDDLE:   You'll  probably  get  bits  and  pieces.   And  then  I 
like  to  read,  because  I  like  research  more  than  art. 
Because  research  leads--  You  do  a  lot  of  art  conceptually 
after  researching  that  I  had  never  gotten  around  to 
actually  doing  in  reality.   You  read  about  the  different 
black  artists.   I  forget  the  guy's  name  now,  but  he  was  a 
great  landscape  painter.   Buchannan  might  be  his  name. 
But  there's  lots  of  artists,  like  [Henry  0.]  Tanner,  and 
then  there's--  And  it  helps  as  a  black  artist  if  you  can 
relate  to  your  own  kind. 

I  mean,  it's  like  the  Bible  never  made  sense  till  I 
went  to  BCN,  Black  Christian  Nationalist  Church.   The 
opening  premise:   Jesus  was  black  because  God  is  black, 
and  then  all  of  a  sudden,  you  had  a  whole  new  perspective 


on  Jesus.   It  makes  way  more  sense  to  think  that  somebody 
who  was  running  around  on  the  continent  of  Africa  was 
black  instead  of  white.   And  when  you  read  in  The  Bible  as 
History  at  Cal[ifornia]  State  [University,  Long  Beach] 
that  on  the  shore  of--  I  guess  it  might  be  lake- -wherever 
Uganda  is--it's  probably  Lake  Tanganyika.   That's  where, 
biblically,  they  think  the  Garden  of  Eden  would  have  been 
if  there  had  been  a  Garden  of  Eden.   It's  one  of  the 
places  they  offered  Israel  when  they  were  making  an  offer 
to  Palestine.   I  think  it  was  around  '48.   But  the  fact 
that  it  could  have  been  in  Africa,  the  Garden  of  Eden,  I 
mean,  that's  not  in  New  York  City.   That's  some  dark- 
skinned  people  there.   So  maybe  Adam  and  Eve  were  black. 
You  don't  know.   When  you  think  about  it,  there's  more 
dark-skinned  people  on  the  planet  than  white  people.   Why 
would  God,  if  he  made  people  in  his  image,  pick  the  race 
that  had  the  least  amount  of  people  and  say,  "This  is  what 
I  look  like."   It's  an  interpretation.   So  when  I  heard 
that  Jesus  was  black  and  God  was  black--  I  used  to  go  to 
church  and  they  started  pointing  out  that  he  had  "hair  of 
wool  and  feet  of  bronze." 

You  don't  hear  anything  in  history  about  the  Moors. 
Then  you  read,  one  time,  how  they  conquered  Spain  and  you 
read  about  Moorish  art  and  Moorish  architecture.   They 
brought  the  arch  to  European  architecture  and  stuff.   And 


then  you  see  that  as,  "Well,  here's  some  black  architects 
who  changed  the  face  of  European  art  and  changed  the 
complexion  of  the  people.   And  then  somehow,  at  some 
point,  that  feeds  back  into  Romare  [Bearden]  and  Jake 
[Jacob  Lawrence].   And  you  find  there's  so  many  things 
that  you're   interested  in  about  black  people  that  all  go 
[to]  help  you  to  have  an  African  American  experience  as  an 
artist.   So,  to  me,  everything  that's  happened  in  the 
history  of  black  people  is  part  of  the  material  of  African 
American  artists. 

Then  you  see  other  people  who  are  practitioners  as 
African  American  artists.   I  remember  like  Romare--the 
first  time  I  really  saw  Romare ' s  work.   He  had  a  show  in 
Pasadena  and  it  took  up  a  whole  wall.   It  was  a  street 
scene,  like  tenements  and  everything,  but  he  had  sound 
with  it--  Sirens,  sounds  that  he  had  probably  recorded  in 
a  New  York  street  scene,  people  talking  and  everything. 
And  all  of  a  sudden  you  got  this  extra-dimensional 
concept.   Instead  of  just  some  color  and  some  images,  all 
of  a  sudden  you're--  I  guess,  if  you'd  had  smells,  you'd 
have  almost  been  there.   You  know,  instead  of  Pasadena, 
you  could  have  been  in  Harlem.   They  just  influence  you 
because  they're  one  of  you,  and  they  do  what  you  like  to 
do.   So  you  begin  to  build  these  bridges  of  identification 
between  yourself,  their  styles,  and  your  [art] .   You  know, 


it's  a  natural  thing. 

But  I  started  off  with  Van  Gogh  and  Rembrandt.   And  I 
still  like  them,  too,  because  as  artists,  they  say  a  lot 
of  stuff  I  like.   But  as  subject  matter,  I  have  to  take-- 
Like  yesterday,  I  was  thinking  about  Huey  [P.]  Newton.   I 
never  saw  a  piece  about  Huey.   Huey  Newton,  a  little  boy, 
with  certain  things  about  him,  up  to  [the  time  that  he  was 
at]  the  head  of  the  Black  Panther  Party.   Huey  Newton  in 
prison.   Huey  Newton,  drug  addict.   Huey  Newton,  dead. 
And  I  thought  it  would  be  nice  to  do  a  piece,  a  drawing  of 
Huey,  in  about  five  or  six  faces,  where  it  starts  out  very 
vague  and  faint,  and  it  gets  sharper  and  focuses  as  you  go 
to  the  middle  of  the  piece.   Then,  at  the  zenith  of  his 
influence,  that's  the  sharpest  contrast,  and  then  he 
starts  fading  out.   And  at  the  end,  he's  gone.   I  mean,  in 
a  way,  that's  like  all  the  people  who  have  influence. 
They  flash  across  the  screen  of  experience  and  they  fade 
on  out,  you  know.   If  they're  a  strong  enough  influence  to 
attract  your  attention,  then  you're  like,  "Wow!"   You  may 
only  get  him  right  there,  "Wow!"   You  might  have  known  him 
from  the  beginning;  you  might  have  gave  up  on  him 
somewhere  and  never  saw  him  fade.   But  still,  it's  like-- 
And  I  thought  that  would  be  a  nice  piece  to  do.   And  then 
I  said,  "Well,  should  I  do  it  on--?"  You  could  do  it 
easiest  on  a  silk  screen.   Or  a  Xerox  machine  is  even 


easier  than  that.   Just  take  the  same  picture  and  start 
off  with  light  and  build  to  dark,  and  then  fade  back  to 
light,  you  know.   But  that's  all  symbols.   I  mean,  we  got 
a  symbol;  you  don't  have  to--  I  mean,  that's  a  lazy  way  to 
do  art.   But  if  you  can  accumulate  certain  symbols,  why 
belabor  the  point  and  say,  "I've  got  to  draw  it."   But 
some  people  feel  that  way. 

MASON:   There's  this  whole  postmodern  movement  now  that 
says  that  symbols  are  all--  Some  societies  are  so  multi- 
cultural that  you  can't  assume  that,  you  know,  symbols 
have  the  same  meaning  for  everybody.   So  that's  some  of 
the  crisis  in  art  and  architecture.   The  Roman  capital  for 
a  European  isn't  the  same  thing  for  a-- 

RIDDLE:   I  guess  to  some  people  you'd  present  an  image  of 
the  Roman  Colosseum  and  some  of  those  partly  deteriorated 
pillars,  and  they  wouldn't  even  know  where  that  was.   Yet, 
to  me,  the  strong  part  about  those  pillars  is  they 
represent,  in  the  state  that  they  exist  now--which  is  not 
like  in  their  highest  state  of  grandeur--that  everything 
is  in  a  state  of  flux,  where  there's  the  coming  and  the 
going  of  things. 

I  heard  a  guy  the  other  day  who  said,  "Well,  you  know 
what  destroyed  Rome  was  the  homosexuality. " 

And  I  was  like,  "No,  man.   Come  on." 

"They  had  way  more  homosexuality  there  than  they  have 


in  the  United  States  now." 

But  that's  not  what  destroyed  Rome,  [the] 
homosexuality.   Rome,  just  like  all  other  things,  it  has 
its  day,  and  their  day  comes,  and  their  day  goes.   Nobody, 
no  country,  no  person  gets  to  stay  on  top  forever. 

That ' s  what ' s  hard  for  America  to  deal  with  right 
now,  that  we  emerged  as  the  preeminent  power  after  World 
War  II,  we  had  that  power  for  thirty- five  strong  years, 
forty  years  if  you  stretch  it--  I  remember  when  [James  E.] 
Carter  said  in  '70--  What  was  it?   It  was  around  '74, 
right  after  the  energy  crisis.   That  was  during  the  energy 
crisis:   me  and  Bridge  [John  Outterbridge]  used  to  talk 
about  that.   "How  can  there  be  an  energy  crisis?   Does  it 
mean  that  your  energy  is  at  a  low  ebb  and  you  can't  do 
nothing?"   You  know,  we  used  to  fall  out  about  "energy 
crisis."   I  even  did  a  piece  called  Energy  Crisis.   It  was 
so  ridiculous,  you  know. 

But  he  showed  at  that  time  what  Angela  Davis  said  ten 
years  before;  they  both  said  the  same  thing.   Angela  was 
complaining  about  the  person  in  between  the  person  who  did 
the  work  and  the  person  who  put  the  goods  on  the  shelf  to 
be  sold.   There  was  a  person  who  neither  produced  the 
goods  or  sold  the  goods,  who  made  a  percentage  of  the 
money  off  the  goods.   And  why  did  that  person  need  to  be 
in  there,  that  middle  person?   And  Carter  was  saying  the 


same  thing  when  he  said  that  there's  a  crisis  of  spirit. 
It's  not  a  crisis  of  energy.   It  was  the  same  time  when 
America  ceased  to  be  a  "manufacturer"  of  goods  and  began 
its  still-existing  quest  for  "consumer."   We  became 
consumers  instead  of  producers.   We  let  other  people  take 
over  the  basic  manufacture,  and  we  began  to  be  the  people 
who  bought  the  finished  goods.   Whereas  after  the  Second 
World  War,  we  were  the  manufacturer. 

Everybody  wanted  American.   "Made  in  America"  meant 
something.   But  the  Japanese,  hey,  you  know,  they  got  to 
retool  all  their  factories  after  the  end  of  the  war  with 
[Douglas]  MacArthur ' s  version  of  the  Marshall  Plan  for 
Europe.   Europe's  got  to  retool  because  everything  was 
destroyed.   They  were  non-militaristic,  so  they  began  to 
make  consumer  goods  for  a  country  that  was  more  and  more 
moving  towards  idleness,  leisure,  and  materialism.   They 
provided  that.   The  Japanese  didn't  have  to  defend 
themselves,  "We're  going  to  defend  you."   Europe  didn't 
have  to  defend  itself,  "We're  going  to  defend  you."   And 
then  we  look  up  and  see  Germany  and  Japan  making  all  the 
money  and  we  wonder  why.   Well,  we  gave  them  our 
permission  by  our  advocacy  of  "We're  going  to  spend  our 
money  on  this  one-time  thing,  this  bomb." 

I  mean,  a  '41  Chevy  is  a  classic  car  that  Reggie 
Jackson  might  pay  $30,000  to  fix  up  and  put  in  his  garage, 


What  are  you  going  to  do  with  a  1941  bomb  you  find  in  a 
pineapple  field  in  Hawaii  that  didn't  explode?   You've  got 
to  call  out  the  bomb  team  to  keep  it  from  killing 
somebody.   It  has  no  resale  value.   But  there  might  be 
twenty  owners  of  that  '41  Chevy.   There  might  be  $10,000 
worth  of  new  parts  that  have  been  sold  to  keep  it  running. 
You  see,  it's  got  value  on  into  infinity.   The  bomb  [has] 
got  value  one  time.   People  made  some  money  when  they 
manufactured  it.   If  the  bomb  is  used,  it's  going  to  do 
its  job  and  kill  somebody,  and  then  the  bomb  is  gone.   The 
bomb  is  used  up.   See,  there's  no  resale  value  on  weapons 
except  to  kill.   So  it's  crazy  to  me.   Why  can't  gun 
barrels  be  irrigation  pipe?   It's  the  same  technology  to 
make  a  round  gun  barrel ;  you  can  make  a  pipe  to  bring  some 
water  to  some  arid  land,  produce  some  crops. 

The  same  with  the  fertilizer  industry.   Rather  than 
encourage  composting  materials  and  using  natural  materials 
and  potash  and  everything  to  replenish  the  soil,  they've 
got  everybody  on  the  chemical  kick.   Drove  all  the  small 
farmers  out  of  business,  ended  up  ruining  the  land.   I 
mean,  it's--  But  they  got  money.   DOW  [Chemical  Company] 
and  them  made  big  money  on  the  short-term.   [Ronald  W.] 
Reagan  and  his  last  big  rip-off--  We  let  everybody 
mortgage  the  equity  in  this  country.   Nothing  but  robbers 
stealing  with  both  hands.   And  then,  now  they  say,  "Wow, 


it  sure  is  a  big  mess  here!"   But  his  friends  got  rich. 
MASON :   Yeah . 

RIDDLE:   It's  so  ridiculous.   Talking  about  all  that 
savings  and  loan  money  is  lost.   If  it  was  lost,  I  could 
go  out  there  and  pick  me  up  twenty  dollars  off  my  grass. 
Billions  and  billions  lost?   I  mean,  that  means  money  just 
laying  around  there  waiting  for  the  wind  to  blow  it.   You 
know?   Shoot,  nobody  would  have  to  even  go  to  work  for  two 
years,  just  harvest  all  that  dough  that's  stuck  in  your 
bushes.   Talking  about  lost.   It  ain't  lost.   They  took 
that  money  right  out  of  this  country  and  put  it  over  in  an 
Asian  basin  and  produced  cheaper  goods  and  bought  back  the 
stuff  that  went  into  default  at  ten  cents  on  the  dollar. 
Cause  a  default  and  then  buy  it  back.   It's  ridiculous. 
And  then  we're  sitting  up  here,  people  going  for  it. 
That's  why  if  I  could  do  art,  that's  what  my  art  would  be 
about . 

If  I  could  do  art  that  a  million  people  saw  every 
day,  that's  what  it  would  be  about:   Don't  let  these 
crooks  get  away  with  it.   I've  got  a  piece  of  art  now 
that's  in  my  head  that  shows  the  drug  pyramid.   And  it's 
made  out  of  nine  bags.   If  you  make  nine  triangles  and  put 
them  in  order,  they  come  out  to  make  a  perfect  big 
triangle.   Like  one  triangle,  two,  three,  and  four.   I 
guess,  that's  ten.   But  anyway,  I  was  going  to  have  like  a 


silk  drawstring  bag  at  the  top,  because  those  are  the 
people  who  don't  see  the  drugs,  don't  use  the  drugs 
necessarily,  but  they  provide  the  economics  and  the 
financing  for  the  drug  trade  to  exist.   The  second  with 
the  two  triangles  is  like  the  people  directly  under  them: 
the  gangster  elements,  the  corrupt  elements,  the  pay-off 
elements  to  keep  that  insulated  from  them.   And  then  as 
you  go  down,  you've  got  like  the  transportation  and  all 
that.   But  it's  a  whole  sequence  of  how  the  retailer  gets 
the  drugs  at  the  bottom--  But  the  drug  bags  at  the  bottom, 
they've  got  to  be  made  out  of  burlap,  something  rough, 
something  textural  and  unpleasant  to  the  touch.   And  who 
are  the  retailers?   That's  where  we  are.   We're  down  at 
the  bottom  thinking  we're  making  money,  thinking  we're  big 
time.   But  we  don't  own  any  of  the  manufacture, 
transportation,  any  of  the  means  of  production.   We're 
just  different  levels  of  consumers.   Some  consumers 
thinking  that  they're  big-time  wholesalers,  but  they're 
just  at  the  bottom  of  the  thing.   I  saw  this  piece  in  nine 
segments.   I've  been  studying  it.   Every  time  I  hear 
something  or  think  something,  I  write  it  down  in  this 
notebook  that's  got  all  these  things  about  this  piece.   I 
might  do  it  someday. 

MASON:   I  mean,  there  are  people  like  Noam  Chomsky,  an  MIT 
[Massachusetts  Institute  of  Technology]  professor,  who  has 


a  movie  out.   Do  you  know  of  him?   Well,  he's  a  professor 
of  linguistics  at  MIT,  and  he  does  a  lot  of  stuff  on 
exposing  the  American  government ' s  role  in  the  overthrow 
of  this  government  or  that  government  in  Central  America. 
RIDDLE:   I  love  that  stuff. 

MASON:   Yeah,  and  he's  a  respected  professor  at  one  of  the 
best  schools  in  the  country.   He's  got  a  film  out  now 
called  Manufacturing  Consent:  [Noam  Chomsky  and  the 
Media],  and  he  goes  around  the  country  lecturing.   Still, 
he's  just  one  person,  but  he  is  somebody  who  is  visible 
and  respected.   And  yet,  that  doesn't  seem  to  be  helping 
to  change  the  way  people  think  because,  I  guess--  Why 
would  you  think  that? 

RIDDLE:   You  can't  change  everybody.   One  reason,  I  think, 
is--  I  used  to  think  of  it  from  a  black  perspective.   If 
you  take  a  strong  black  movement  like  the  civil  rights 
movement,  you  work  and  you  sacrifice  and  people  die  for 
principle.   They  advance  the  cause  of  their  principle  by 
the  energy  that  they  apply.   But  the  forces  of  resistance-- 
I  used  to  always  think  of  it  as  three  shifts,  three  eight- 
hour  shifts  like  in  a  factory.   The  shifts  never  end. 
Now,  you  may  get  tired  after  seventy-two  days,  or  no  days 
off,  working  your  butt  off,  and  on  that  seventy- third  day 
say,  "I've  got  to  have  me  a  rest,"  and  you  just  stop.   But 
these  three  shifts  never  stop. 


One  time  I  saw  it  in  a  biology  class  at  school .   They 
were  showing  the  different  struggles  on  the  non-human 
level,  but  they  were  applicable  lessons.   It  showed  the 
starfish,  and  why  the  starfish  is  such  a  deadly  adversary 
in  the  clam  and  shellfish  areas  down  on  the  bottom  of  the 
ocean.   It  showed  the  clam  is  like  this  two-sided  shell 
that  has  a  very  powerful  muscle  that  runs  along  its  back 
that  allows  the  shell  to  open  and  close.   A  very  strong 
muscle.   It  showed  when  the  starfish,  who  eats  the 
shellf ish--that ' s  what  they  eat,  this  particular  kind  of 
starfish  anyway- -showed  how  he  opened  the  shell--  Because 
he  had  like  six  legs.   They  always  had  four  or  five  legs 
exerting  this  suction  cup  that  was  on  the  bottom  of  their 
legs,  pressing  it  to  pull  this  shell  open.   Now,  the  shell 
could  resist.   But  the  advantage  the  starfish  had,  he 
always  had  two  legs  resting  in  rotation,  so  he  never  gave 
up  a  four-legged  pressure  on  the  shell.   And  then  pretty 
soon  the  mussel  got  tired  because  it  couldn't  rest.   It 
had  to  just  stay  closed  like  this,  and  there  was  always 
something  pulling,  trying  to  open  it.   So  since  the 
pressure  to  open  it  was  relentless,  superior  to  the  energy 
and  the  strength  of  the  mussel,  eventually,  the  mussel  got 
tired  and  it  relaxed.   The  starfish  opened  it  up,  stuck 
his  beak  down  in  there,  and  ate  the  shellfish.   And  that's 
why  they  were  showing  how  they  were  trying  to  eradicate, 


through  chemicals,  some  kind  of  thing  they  could  put  down 
on  the  floor  of  the  ocean  that  would  kill  the  starfish  or 
reduce  their  population,  but  not  harm  the  shellfish,  and 
its  ingestion  by  people  later  wouldn't  cause  the  people  to 
get  sick.   So  they  had  this  problem  trying  to,  you  know, 
adjust  nature  to  man's  need,  which  wasn't  that  bad  a 

But  it  just  showed  how  relentless  pressure  can  be 
stronger  than  the  will  to  change  things.   And  so  it  grabs-- 
To  me,  it  answers  your  question  that  if  Professor  Chomsky 
can  go  around  and  he  can  influence  through  limited  media 
his  ideas  being  made  available  to  people--  He  has  a  harder 
time  than  Robert  Dole  getting  on  TV  every  day,  Michaels 
getting  on  TV  every  day.   "This  is  the  biggest  tax  and 
spend--  Tax  and  spend.   Tax  and  spend."   I  mean,  you  hear 
"tax  and  spend"  so  much  that  you  associate  that  with  the 
Democratic  Party.   But  yet,  you  never  hear  the  biggest 
deficit  maker  in  the  history  of  the  world,  Ronald  Reagan, 
being  described  as  a  "borrow  and  spend."   And  that's  what 
he  did.   I  mean,  it's  like  he  had  a  giant  credit  card,  and 
he  just  went  around  and  abused  the  credit  card. 
Everything  on  credit.   They  borrowed  and  spent,  borrowed 
and  spent,  borrowed  and  spent  into  the  greatest 
accumulation  of  debt  in  the  history  of  the  world.   But  you 
never  hear  "borrow  and  spend."   That's  what  they  did.   But 


you  always  hear  "tax  and  spend,  tax  and  spend,  tax  and 
spend • " 

So  Chomsky  is  going  around  saying,  "But  look  over 
here.   Look  what's  happening  here,"   Now,  a  few  people 
will  turn  their  heads,  and  they  may  be  influenced  and  they 
may  change.   But  the  vast  majority  in  that  bell-shaped 
curve--  He's  got  this  [group]  to  the  left;  10  percent  are 
already  for  him.   Now  he's  encroaching  slightly  into  the 
20  percent  that  is  the  next  10,  pulling  some  people  over. 
But  the  mass  of  people,  they  see  Dole,  they  see  Reagan- - 

I  mean,  Reagan,  he  was  a  wind-up  toy.   He  was  so  bad 
that  they  had  to  change  his  exit  from  exiting  and  going 
out  to  the  side  after  news  conferences  to--  They  put  the 
thing,  the  podium,  right  in  front  of  this  long  hall  so 
that  when  he  got  through,  he  just  turned  his  back  on  the 
press  and  went  down  this  hall  and  disappeared,  because  he 
made  too  many  stupid  remarks  when  he  was  going  off  the 
side.   And  the  press  said,  "Mr.  Reagan,  Mr.  Reagan,  Mr. 
Reagan,"  and  he'd  say  dumb  stuff  and  they'd  have  to  clean 
it  up.   So  they  made  it  so  all  he  had  to  do  was  no 
personal  ad  lib,  of f-the-record  comments  with  the  press. 
You  turn  around  and  you  go  down  that  hall.   And  then,  at 
the  end,  if  you  remember  Reagan,  you'd  always  see  Reagan, 
"Well,  I  guess  that's  it."   He'd  turn  around  and  walk  down 
that  hall,  and  that  was  it.   See,  because  he  made  too  many 


mistakes  when  he  was  just  Reagan  being  Reagan,  because 
he ' s  a  dummy . 

MASON:   I  remember  when  he  was  governor. 

RIDDLE:   Yeah.   I  mean,  when  [Edmund  G.]  "Pat"  Brown  ran-- 
I'll  never  forget  my  sister.   I  kid  her  to  this  day.   Now, 
she's  radical;  I'm  a  conservative  next  to  her.   When 
Reagan  ran  against  Brown,  she  said,  "Ronald  Reagan.   Pat 
Brown.   Who  cares?   They're  all  the  same."   After  Ronald 
Reagan  had  been  in  a  year,  she  said,  "Damn,  Ronald  Reagan 
is  terrible."   I  mean,  this  man  did--  He  said,  "We  don't 
have  money  to  keep  the  marginally  and  the  people  worse 
than  marginal  who  are  mentally  retarded  and  have  mental 
problems  in  the  institution."   He  put  the  walking  crazies 
on  the  street.   If  you  go  back,  that's  the  beginning  of 
the  massive  period  of  homelessness  that  we  have  right  now. 
Not  that  everybody--  I  mean,  it  became  economics  later. 
But  the  first  real  rush  of  new  homeless  was  when  Ronald 
Reagan  dumped  the  insane  asylums.   When  he  did  that--  I 
remember  when  he  did  that.   He  said,  "Well,  we  can't 
afford  this." 

I  mean,  they  had  Kent  State.   But  nobody  remembers 
that  Ronald  Reagan  called  out  the  troops  at  [University  of 
California]  Santa  Barbara,  and  two  students  got  killed. 
And  the  thing  that  made  it  look  bad  was  just  before  he 
called  out  the  sheriffs  and  those  people  in  Santa  Barbara, 


he  had  made  the  statement,  "Well,  let  them  bite  the 
bullet."   Now,  he  didn't  say  go  out  and  shoot  nobody.   But 
a  couple  of  people  didn't  bite  bullets,  but  they  caught 
bullets  and  died. 

^4AS0N:   At  the  University  of  Santa  Barbara. 
RIDDLE:   Yeah.   It's  up  there. 
MASON:   That's  hard  to  believe. 

RIDDLE:   Well,  I'd  say  it  was  right  around  the  time  of 
Kent  State  that  two  people  got  killed  by  the  sheriffs  for 
anti-war  demonstrations  up  in  Santa  Barbara.   I  don't 
remember  the  exact  date  now,  but  I  remember  when  it 
happened.   But  it's  just--  But  yet,  he's  considered--like 
you  said,  Ollie  North--  Well,  he's  the  one  who  said  Ollie 
North  was  an  American  hero.   And  look  at  [William  J.] 
Casey!   You  think  of  the  Ronald  Reagan  movie  where  he's 
the  Gipper,  and  he  says,  "Win  one  for  the  Gipper, "  and 
he's  laying  up  there  at  Notre  Dame,  dying.   And  you  think 
about  Casey.   Here,  the  day  Casey  was  supposed  to  testify 
and  all  that  stuff,  his  brain  tumor- -he  had  to  go  to  the 
hospital.   He  never  got  out  of  the  hospital.   I  know 
Ronald  Reagan  told  Casey,  he  said,  "Casey,  if  you  take 
this  hit  for  me  and  go  on  and  die  and  let  all  the  secrets 
be  dumped  in  your  grave,  we'll  take  care  of  your  family." 
It  was  too  convenient. 
MASON:   The  Corleones. 


RIDDLE:   Yeah.   It's  too  convenient  for  Casey  to  just  do 
it.   And  when  they  got  to  those  hearings  on  Contras  for 
arms,  every  trail  led  to  Casey's  grave.   And  there's  no 
way,  once  it  went  into  Casey's  grave,  for  it  to  come  out 
the  other  side  and  affect  anybody.   Everybody's  all, 
"Well,  Casey  did  it.   Casey  did  it."   Aw,  shoot.   Come  on. 
Oh,  well. 
MASON:   The  tape  is  going  to  end  in  a  couple  of  minutes, 


RIDDLE:   I  didn't  get  these  other  questions. 
MASON:   Well,  actually  you  talked  about  most  of  them. 
RIDDLE:   I  don't  know.   One  thing,  though,  as  it  ends,  I 
have  to  make  a  confession  about  me  and  art.   When  I  first 
wanted  to  do  art--I  probably  mentioned  this  before--! 
found  out  if  I  did  art,  I  could  get  to  talk  about  art. 
Kind  of  like  you  said  the  guy  from  MIT  has  another  life, 
but  he  also  likes  to  go  lecture.   I  can  remember  the  night 
that  it  happened,  but  I  don't  remember  where.   But  the 
first  time  they  turned  out  the  lights  and  there  was  an 
audience  and  they  put  some  slides  of  my  art  up  on  the 
wall--  And  I  had  written  a  script  about  each  piece.   I 
realized  that  you  had  a  darkened  room,  which  meant  the 
focus  was  on  your  work,  and  you  could  write  a  voice-over 
that  was  partly  about  your  art  as  it  appeared  up  there, 
but  that  the  symbols--  You  could  run  your  political  and 


social  philosophy  on  a  captive  audience.   That's  when  I 
knew  I  really  wanted  to  do  art,  so  I  could  get  some  people 
in  a  room  where  they  couldn't  get  out  and  I  could  run  my 
theories--  So  that's  what  I  like  the  best.   And  I  think 
that  you  can  influence  more  people  in  multimedia,  visual 
and  audio.   So  that's  really  why  I  like  to  do  art.   That's 
probably  why  I  can't  change  and  do  nice  little  pictures. 
That's  why  I  always  kept  a  job.   I  mean,  I've  had  a 
job  longer  than  I've  done  art,  because  at  least  I  had 
money  coming  in  for  the  support  of  my  own  family,  which 
was  six  kids  and  a  wife  [Carmen  Garrott  Riddle]  of  forty 
years.   And  if  you  really  want  to  do  art,  there's  enough 
time  to  do  art.   Me  and  David  Hammons  used  to  argue  about-- 
Three  hours  a  day  during  the  week,  that  was  fifteen  hours 
a  week,  and  then  do  ten  on  the  weekends,  Saturday,  and  ten 
on  the  weekend,  Sunday:   you  were  an  artist  thirty-five 
hours  a  week.   And  a  lot  of  artists  I  knew  in  L.A.  weren't 
doing  art  thirty- five  hours  a  week  that  didn't  have  jobs. 
And  I  had  that  formula  for  a  long  time  that--  And  I  think 
when  you  finally  get  caught  up  in  your  art,  where  your  art 
begins  to  develop  a  momentum  and  you  transcend  the 
material  with  your  thoughts--  You're  not  thinking  of  the 
material.   It's  like  a  direct  relationship  between  your 
expression  and  your  thought  process  without  worrying  about 
the  materials.   So  the  technology  is  gone,  and  it's  just  a 


straight  link  to  your  expression.   I  think,  at  that  point, 
you  can  do  all  the  art  you  can  do  till  you're  exhausted, 
and  you  can  go  to  work  the  next  day,  whether  it's  in  the 
classroom  or  some  mundane  job  or  some  job  you  enjoy,  by 
the  fact  that  you  progressed  in  your  own  evolution  of 
thought  and  idea.   You've  done  something  positive  just 
before  you  went  to  bed  so  you  could  get  up  and  go  to  the 
workplace.   Nothing  at  the  workplace  can  make  you  feel 
really  bad,  because  you've  got  something  to  look  forward 
to  beyond  the  workplace.   So  I  think  that  that's  how  I've 
survived.   I  get  to  retire  in  five  years.   Maybe  if  I  have 
health  for  ten  or  fifteen  years  after  I  retire,  I  can 
devote  full  time  to  art  without  having  the  restraints  of  a 
large  family  on  me  and  see  what  happens.   I'm  kind  of 
looking  forward  to  it. 
MASON:   Okay.   Well,  thanks  a  lot. 

RIDDLE:   And  I'd  like  to  thank  all  the  people  I  met  in  my 
artistic  life  and  in  my  life  who've  influenced  me. 
They're  too  numerous  to  mention,  but  I  love  them  all. 
Because  we  had  a  symbiotic  relationship.   And  that's  it. 
MASON:   Okay.   Thank  you. 



AFRI -COBRA,  151 
Allende,  Salvador,  11-1^ 
Andrews,  Benny,  135-36 
Ankrum  Gallery  ( Los 

Angeles),  111 
Art-West  Associated,  114, 


Bailey,  Herman  "Kofi,"  133- 

Bearden,  Romare,  135,  183- 

84,  237 
Biggers,  John  T.,  184-85 
Black  Artists  Association, 

Black  Arts  Council,  211 
Black  Christian  Nationalist 

Church,  23-25,  168-70, 

Black  Panther  Party,  193, 

Bohanon,  George,  130 
Bohanon,  Gloria,  130 
Booker,  Claude,  108,  134 
Brockman  Gallery  ( Los 

Angeles),  106,  109,  111, 

Brown,  Edmund  G.,  "Pat," 

Brown,  John,  220 
Bush,  George  H.W.,  125, 

126,  127 

California  African  American 

Museum,  90 
California  Eagle,  217 
Carlin,  George,  125 
Carmichael,  Stokely,  158, 

Carter,  Alprentree, 

"Bunchy,"  116 
Carter,  James  E.,  73,  240- 

Casey,  Bernard  T., 

"Bernie, "  110 

Casey,  William  J.,  250-51 
Castro,  Fidel,  74 
Chomsky,  Noam,  244-45, 

247,  248 
Christo,  83 

Coltrane,  John,  79,  92 
Communicative  Arts 

Academy,  172 
Concholar,  Dan  R. ,  96, 

100-101,  131,  176,  179 
Concholar,  Olivia,  100-101 
Cosby,  Bill,  202,  212 

Davis,  Alonzo,  96,  108-9, 

111,  117,  176 
Davis,  Angela  Y. ,  240 
Davis,  Anthony  T.,  13 
Davis,  Miles,  133 
Douglas,  Emory,  109,  134 
Drisdom,  Emma 

(grandmother),  2,  3,  4 
Du  Bois,  W.E.B.,  116,  156 

Edwards,  Melvin,  96-97, 

Eversley,  Frederick  J., 

97-98,  114 

Franklin,  Shirley,  122 

Gale,  Wesley,  114-15 
Gallery  32  ( Los  Angeles ) , 

Garrott,  Alice,  17,  93 
Gillespie,  Dizzy,  87,  92 
Goodnight,  Paul,  185 
Griffin,  Hal,  11 

Hall,  John,  187 

Hammons,  David,  71,  101-4, 
105-6,  111-12,  117,  159, 
163-64,  176,  177,  179, 
252;  Skillets  in  the 
Closet,  103;  How  Ya  Like 
Me  Now.  103 


Hasenfus,  Eugene,  127,  187 
Haynie,  Wilbur,  106 
Herbert,  Ernest,  106-7 
Heritage  Gallery  (Los 

Angeles),  212 
Heyerdahl,  Thor,  228 
Hill,  Anthony,  173-75 
Hilliard,  David:  This  Side 

of  Glory  (novel),  193-94 
Hoffus,  Tony,  41-42 
Honeywood,  Varnette,  42, 

Horowitz,  Benjamin,  111 
Huggins,  John,  116 
Hussein,  Saddam,  125 

Jackson,  Jessie  L. ,  103 
Jackson,  Maynard,  144-45 
Jackson,  Suzanne,  92-93, 

100,  109-10,  180-81 
Jefferson,  Joanne  Tyler 

(sister),  1,  21-22 
Jenkins,  Kerry,  15 
Johnson,  Daniel  LaRue,  88- 

89,  96-97,  141 
Johnson,  Suzy  Pinkney 

( aunt ) ,  3 

Karenga,  Maulana,  115-16 
Keeling,  Judy  (sister),  1 
King,  Martin  Luther,  Jr. , 

Kissinger,  Henry,  73, 


Lawrence,  Jacob,  135,  150, 

183-84,  237 
Leakey,  Louis  S.,  228 
Leakey,  Richard  E.,  228 
Lewis,  Samella,  181 
Lomax,  Melanie,  145,  146 
Lomax,  Michael,  145 
Lomax,  Wilhemina,  145-46 
Los  Angeles  Police 

Department  ( LAPD ) ,  28-29 

Malcolm  X,  26-27,  116,  191, 

Meo,  Yvonne  Cole,  96 

Mills,  T.  Lev,  136-37 
Mills,  P'lla,  67 

Newton,  Huey  P.,  238 
Nixon,  Richard  M. ,  73,  208 
Noriega,  Manuel,  73-74, 

North,  Oliver,  186,  224 

Ortega,  Daniel,  74 

Outterbridge,  John  W. ,  86, 
90,  91,  96,  117,  118 
119,  167,  170-72,  240 

Paine,  Billy,  144-45 
Pajaud,  William  E.,  Jr., 

54,  55,  67-68,  135,  182- 

Pajaud,  William  E.,  Sr., 

Parker,  Charlie,  87,  92, 

Pinkney,  Oliver  (uncle),  3 
Pinochet,  Augusto,  72,  75 
Poitier,  Sidney,  III,  121 
Purifoy,  Noah,  60,  61-62, 

69-70,  76,  116-17,  176, 

179,  191,  207;  Sir 

Watts,  117 

Reagan,  Ronald  W.,  13, 

194,  199,  242,  247, 

Ricks,  Willy,  158,  214-15 
Riddle,  Anthony  Thomas 

(son),  13-14,  77,  139- 

40,  215 
Riddle,  Carmen  Garrott 

(wife),  5,  17,  25,  42, 

188,  190,  191,  192,  199, 

209,  252 
Riddle,  C.  Morton 

(grandfather),  5,  6,  8, 

Riddle,  Deborah  Lynn 

(daughter),  140 
Riddle,  Diallo  Amir  (son), 

Riddle,  Dwight  (uncle),  5 





88;  Clubs 


Edgar  (uncle),  5-6 
Flo  (aunt),  6 
Geraldine  ( aunt ) , 

John  Thomas,  Jr.-- 
Bird  and  Diz,  87- 
Trumps,  154- 
Force,  68; 



Employees  Only,  72-75; 
The  Ghetto  Merchant.  62; 
86;  Malcolm  X.  77- 


78;  Nixon; 

The  20th 

Anniversary.  Busted.  80- 

81;  The  Olympic  Stand. 

151-54;  Pieces  of  Hand. 

208-9;  Pre-programmed . 

45,  46;  Street  Trial.  51, 

Riddle,  John  Thomas,  Sr. 

(father),  1,  2,  5,  9-10, 

12,  13-17,  44,  94,  146, 

Riddle,  Pamela  Ann 

(daughter),  140 
Riddle,  Paul  Anthony 

( brother ) ,  1 
Riddle,  Ralph  (uncle),  6 
Riddle,  Shawn  Denise 

(daughter),  140 
Riddle,  Spring  Robin 

(daughter),  141 
Robinson,  Jackie,  6 

Saar,  Betye,  96,  180 
Schulberg,  Budd,  118 
Seale,  Bobby,  46,  123 
Smith,  David,  66 
Superfly  (film),  128-29 

Tanner,  Henry  O. ,  183-84, 

Tatum,  Earl,  44 
Terry,  Ollie,  94 
Terry,  Ruby,  94 
Tolliver,  William,  185 
Torrijos,  Omar,  73-74 

University  of  California, 
Santa  Barbara,  249-50 

Waddy,  Ruth  G. ,  60,  61, 

96,  114,  176,  181 
Washington,  Booker  T., 

116,  156 
Washington,  Timothy,  180 
Wattle,  David,  152 
Watts  riots,  154,  178-79 
Summer  Festival  of 
,  116,  117,  178,  182 
Writers  Workshop, 

Frances  Cress, 
George  ( uncle ) 





Wheeler,  Helen  Louise 

(mother),  1,  2,  10,  12, 

16,  17,  20,  36,  44,  80, 

White,  Charles  E. ,  135, 

150,  185 
White,  Walter,  7-8 
William  Grant  Still 

Community  Arts  Center 

( Los  Angeles ) , 
Williams,  Delia, 
Williams,  Frank, 
Williams,  Paul, 

Woodson,  Carter 



G.,  6, 


Young  Jr. ,  Andrew  J. ,  122 


1..  ^,